Military Recruiters Who Lie

Aug 5, 2008

A lot is being written lately regarding the military recruiter in Texas who told a recruit who had changed his mind about joining the service that he was “going to jail” if he did not report for basic training. That’s sad, because it perpetuates the age-old stereotype of the military recruiter who will say and do anything in order to meet a quota.

As there are bad apples in any field, there are military recruiters who lie. They are a very small minority. As a former Marine Corps officer who has worked with all the services over the years, I am very familiar with military recruiting programs, policies, and recruiter tactics.

I have also known many military recruiters. The overwhelming majority of military recruiters are hard-working, diligent, honest, and proud people who have a strong desire to bring in top-quality, highly motivated recruits into their services.

Additionally, the services today only allow their top people to become recruiters. That’s because recruiters in the all volunteer force must compete for a dwindling pool of young people, there’s a war going on, and only the smartest and sharpest will be asked to represent their service.

In fact, in the Marine Corps, you cannot become a recruiter even if you wanted to, unless you consistently score in the top categories in all your performance evaluations. I am confident the other services are the same.

Military recruiters also do not want to bring problem recruits into their services. That costs money, it hurts their fellow service members, and can actually get people killed. If too many problem recruits come from a specific recruiter, that recruiter is going to be investigated and disciplined if questionable tactics are discovered.

The surest way to bring adverse attention to yourself  as a recruiter is to bring in recruits who, from the onset of their service, have a poor attitude. That was most certainly the case with the Texas recruit who was told he would either go into the service, or go to jail.

The preceding does not mean that military recruiters will not use aggressive sales tactics, or that young recruits will not change their minds after they have signed a contract agreeing to report for duty. Quotas for recruiters are stiff, and failing to meet quotas can have negative career consequences.

“Aggressive tactics” do not necessarily equate to unethical, unscrupulous, or outright illegal tactics. As an example, a little-known policy is the defense-wide “Failure to Ship” recruiting policy, applicable to all the services. It says that any recruit who fails to report for initial training (“boot camp” for enlisted members; officer candidates school for officers) is to be automatically discharged, without penalty or further obligation. If the recruit or officer candidate had accepted remuneration such as a signing bonus, advance pay, or money for college, they are to repay the money in the same manner as unpaid taxes.

There is no “going to jail” for not showing up. This policy is rarely communicated to recruits because if it was, many would change their minds the day before shipping out when they are at the height of their anxiety regarding the wisdom of their decision to join the military.

However, if asked, the recruiter is required to inform the recruit of this policy. Is it aggressive to not volunteer to the recruit that he/she is free to walk away at any time? Yes. Is it unethical to not inform the recruit if not asked? I don’t think so.

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