Written by a veteran, USMC 2008-2011
(This in no way reflects my view on all the individuals in the armed forces. This account is simply my experience and the experience universally acknowledge among my peers and others in my profession. I am writing as a concerned member of the Armed Forces, not as a pacifist or an activist, but as a Marine with concerns for the Marine Corps and the individuals in it. This is not meant to condemn myself or my kind, but to make aware to people the nature of the armed forces so that they can avoid idolizing us and reach out to us instead. It is also not a reflection of all recruiters- my main recruiter ended up being an older gentleman who was dedicated to his family and faith- this commentary is about the truth behind recruitment as a whole and the dangers of uncontrolled recruitment among young people).
I work with Combat Camera for a Marine Corps base that focuses on recruit training and recruitment. We spend thousands (possibly millions) each year to canvass our region for teachers. We invite them on base for a luxurious week to tour the facilities and watch recruits train, all accommodations and cost free and on the government dime. The intent of this is to win the teacher's favor by showing them the best of recruit training so that they will a, refer high-school students to our ranks and b, persuade their school administrators to allow recruiters total access of school grounds during any/all operational hours. That's right -a recruiter around kids, freshmen through senior, any day of the week for any function, school event or school activity.
This sound innocent. It is not. As a Marine who realized that over half of her platoon was sleeping with or seduced by their recruiters into boot camp, I see the inherit ill of having charismatic, trained and often married-men and women whose sole goal is to pull bodies of young people into the military, allowed access into high schools on a 24/7 basis. I have videotaped and sat in on countless depositions of sexually abused, seduced and raped female Marines who were used by their recruiters as early as seventeen years of age, if not earlier. They were picked up from school and dropped off, they saw their recruiters during lunch and in-between periods, some recruiters even went so far as to befriend them on myspace, facebook and even attend their church and mingle amongst their families. The school did not prevent these sexual predators from preying upon young women because they believed that the Marines were of sound mind and good character simply because wore a uniform and looked like model citizens. Over half of the women in my platoon were seduced into the Marine Corps by covertly dating their recruiters. Some of them were offered 'contract marriages' while they were in the DEP program. (These ones were luckier because the relationship benefited them by granting them access to prime duty stations, larger incomes and preferential treatment).
In the case of the young women who were not "lucky" enough to get married, there were many stories circulating within my company of being seduced in the office, of being asked to "strip down" and make an "oral report.” Understand that many of these young women were very vulnerable. It is estimated that over half of the women in the Armed Forces have been abused before entering, that 89% claim sexual abuse after entrance and it is estimated that these numbers are conservative because many women will never confess to abuse. Where the number rises is uncertain, but make no mistake that a large portion of women in the military are prone to abuse, physical, mental and sexual, prior to enlistment. In the case of one of my battle buddies, her recruiter told her she was too 'fat' (all the while sleeping with her and her fellow pullies). She became bulimic. I realized the connection when I discovered that she would begin a vicious cycle of vomiting her meals into the head after receiving degrading letters from him. The abuse is not only physical, but because of the power these recruiters have, it is psychological and has long lasting effects that can damage their careers.
In the Marine Corps, fraternization with a non commissioned officer (NCO) or a staff enlisted is punishable, but a relationship with any married military person leads to punitive charges. In this case recruiters could get away with murder because pullies are a, easily manipulated because they do not know the system and don't want to loose their chance at getting a good MOS and b, because they are not subject to UCMJ and therefore unaware of it. A recruiter has nearly all the power and should be held responsible. Many of them do not tell potential recruits that having an affair with them can affect their careers in the future. I had to watch young women, who had started their lives afresh in the Marine Corps, be called into court to recount details of their sexual relationships with their recruiter and defend themselves from allegations. Recruiters are in a position to manipulate pullies and they have so much power over the paperwork that they can almost re-write a person's profile in order to protect themselves down the line. Often, they get out before justice can be sought once it is realized by the victims what transgressions were made.
Many of the disadvantaged high school students who come from impoverished families, broken homes or foreign countries are especially vulnerable to the recruiter because the recruiter is their only means to a new life. Recruiters who are trained to be psychologically manipulative (like Drill Instructors), target the weakness of young people and draw them out- they will tell you anything they want to get you to sign but more importantly, they will tell you what you want to hear. In my case, they told me that there was an illustrator job opening (but they did not tell me this job had closed two months earlier, they even went to far as to make it 'official' looking by asking me to submit an art portfolio for review). I submitted, only to discover myself in a different job altogether. Whether criminal or petty, their role as a career counselor does not mitigate them from using, as the Marine Corps permits them to use, practices that are shady at best, harmful at worst.
One of my recruiters also told me to lie on my physical and mental exams. He phrased it as 'just leave this stuff out, it will slow down the process and you will be accepted anyways.' I came to find out that the Marine Corps could prosecute me for falsified and perjured documents. This is not likely, but once you are in the military, if you get on any one's bad side or undergo investigation, they can use anything and everything against you and will do so (I have seen this happen to the young women who were required to witness: their medical history -or the lack of it- was used by the defense against their word). Moreover and more importantly, these 'left out' details are important. They tell the Marine Corps if you are too weak, too unstable or too criminal to be a part of the ranks, but the recruiters want to meet the numbers will tell you to just 'skip' it over. This results in people facing life-long injury and on occasion, death. In my case I had to see my best friend dangling from a noose because his bi-polar disorder went undocumented (though his recruiters had full knowledge of his mental instability). He killed himself with warning and is one of many who enter after having been told to 'just save this issue for a later date.' This might have been prevented if his recruiters had not 'poo-pooed' his mental history and stuck to the rules of ethical recruitment.
I myself was the typical victim of recruitment (every enlisted person has a 'shady recruiter' story, whether it's getting out of tickets, to an illicit relationship or being jyped out of their job). I was a wary older twenty-year old who was more immune to manipulative overtures but even my scrupulous questions and research never got me the full scoop. I also saw, firsthand, their many other duplicitous practices. They forged paperwork, ignored important medical details and instructed pullies to lie about their mental health, their physical history and criminal past. Some recruiters targeted 'soft criminals' by offering to 'wipe' their records clean, or avoid charges and fines by getting them out of trouble with the law. A call to the police station, paying off the ticket, or making a drug charge 'disappear' or whatever else was needed to get these people out of trouble and into boot camp were efforts made by recruiters to bolster the ranks. From 2003 up until recently, we indiscriminately filled the Marine Corps with mentally unstable, physically unqualified and often criminal people and it has affected the Marine Corps from the bottom up since I have been in. This is the result of rampant and uncontrolled recruiting after 9/11 and it will only be worse if recruiters are given unlimited access to their hunting ground: schools
Furthermore, recruiters target poor schools with impoverished families, immigrants and disadvantaged students who are prone to gang violence and petty crime. The many videos I edited for these teacher workshops were nothing short of sheer propaganda. They told the teachers what they wanted to believe, saying that we were looking for the 'hyperactive student, who would be suited to a fast-paced lifestyle,' or the student who 'didn't know what he/she wanted' and we would turn these fine young men and women into prize citizens. But behind the scenes we were targeting Hispanics, blacks, minorities, troubled young women, kids who needed a bailout from jail or tickets, kids stuck in the small town or kids who had no trade, no college money and no family or opportunities once high school was over. As a recruiting assistant, fresh off of boot leave, I witnessed these practices firsthand and these methods are common knowledge in the Marine Corps. Perhaps it can be argued that they have to recruit somewhere, and that it is better for an inner city boy with no prospects to join a legal organization rather than an illegal one, but this discriminating practice reflects in the ranks and lends itself to small injustices. Furthermore, recruiters have everything to their advantage when they buy sandwiches and give out free rides to kids who have little to eat or no place to go. Don't recruiters promoting the sex industry do the same? While there is no kidnapping or drugging involved, one has to wonder why they would go for the 'easy' kills rather than recruit equally and for quality. I have watched young men get NJPed for a coke habits -a coke habit they brought with them into the USMC because of faulty recruitment- get kicked out. That is thousands of dollars of government money, training and effort wasted on an individual who was unfit to serve from the start.
Shoddy recruitment is nearly always blame in some manner, large or small, though the real culprits are sitting in Congress and the White House. The pressure from Congress to fill up the ranks for the war and their refusal to inquest a draft has put the pressure directly on recruiters, many of whom rarely see their families due to overwork and must turn to shady practices in order to meet their quotas. That is another matter altogether, but keep in mind that these Marines, while responsible for their individual actions, were placed into a next-to-impossible situation and we are reaping the fruits of it as a result.
My job, as a combat camera woman, was to edit videos which persuaded teachers and educators, who were normally and rightly distrusting of the military, to refer their 'displaced students' to us and give us permission to recruit when and where we liked with no accountability. Take it seriously when I say that my job, as a support of recruitment and recruit training, and the job of many others, is to make you believe with no critical reflection that the Marine Corps is a safe place for your child and that we make model citizens who will be better off with us than anywhere else. My job is to hide the many victims, the many failed, the many broken who have been hurt by a system that is not dedicated to the individual but interested in accomplishing a mission at any cost, even if it means deceiving people, forging papers, seducing teens and lying to parents in order to meet a quota. I have written scripts which were deceptive and gone on shoots that chosen to ignore the ills of recruit training. I was ordered to do so, but I take full responsibility for contributing, in my small way, to the illusion and not the truth.
That isn't to say that Marines can't be the poster-children you see in half-time reels and that we're not good citizens, but we are no saints, either, and to portray ourselves as such is just as misleading as any religious sect claiming perfection. The lie is in the unsaid and not the stated, and this is dangerous when you combine it with a goal that has no direct tether. In the case of allowing full access to recruiters in school, be aware that there are no external rules in place to ensure these Marines do not become predators.
The above being said, there are many good and excellent people in the military and I have met great friends in the Marine Corps. There are people who are cut out to be the poster image of the moral warrior because they are the moral warrior. But bear in mind that our Armed Forces are what we recruit and that the people who are recruiting need to be held to standards and should be limited (or at least accountable) for their methods. I fear that letting recruiters, wholesale, into schools, will result in many more tragedies that could have been avoided had we realized the tremendous power, and therefore danger, than recruiters have to influence our young men and women.