When Military Recruiting Goes Bad

What to Know Before You Sit down with a Recruiter

The consequences of false statements on enlistment documents can end what could have been a very bright career. But what about the recruiter who lies or asks you to lie?

Most recruiters are hard-working, honest, and trustworthy, tasked to do one of the most difficult jobs in the military. However, military recruiting is a numbers game: Recruiters' careers are made and broken based on whether or not they can meet their monthly quotas (called "goals" in the recruiting world).

Keep in mind (depending on the service branch) that most recruiters are non-volunteers. Some never wanted the job in the first place, but -- once selected -- are told that the prospect of returning to their previous jobs after three or four years of recruiting duty with an unblemished service record depends primarily upon making their goals.

Here are some of the half-truths and misrepresentations of truth you may hear from some military recruiters:

•••  © The Balance, 2018

Chances of Being Sent to a Combat Zone

The fact is, this depends primarily upon your branch of service and your military job.

Your chances of being deployed (on the ground) to a combat zone not as great in the Air Force and Navy as they may be in the Marines or the Army. Your chances may be greater based on the job, or military occupational specialty, you have.

Becoming a Navy SEAL via the Marine Corps

The short answer is: This rarely happens. The Navy SEAL program only takes members who are in the Navy. No other branch can go through SEAL training. While it is true, serving in the Marines will prepare you well for a job in any Special Forces program, getting into the Navy from the Marines is not an easy task.

Typically, former Marines, after their four-year enlistment, get out, join the Navy then go to SEAL training only if the Navy is taking sailors with prior military experience. Regardless, the numbers are small coming from active duty to SEAL training. 

Getting the Job Listed on Your Enlistment Contract

While you will be trained in a specific job, once training is complete, there is no guarantee that you will actually be assigned to perform that specific job. In most cases, you probably will get to perform your job.

However (in the Army especially), it's not really all that uncommon to arrive on a post after training, only to find out they have too many of your particular job on that post and be assigned to do something else.

Even the training is not necessarily guaranteed. While there are some exceptions, the general rule is if you fail to complete the training for the "guaranteed job" in your enlistment contract, due to something the military considers to be their own fault (such as the job is eliminated/reduced, the job standards change, or you fail to qualify for a security clearance through no fault of your own), then the service will generally give you the choice of re-training into a different job, or an honorable discharge.

In this case, the choice is yours.

If, on the other hand, you fail to complete training for the job for something the military considers to be your fault (such as academic failure, getting into trouble, or being denied a security clearance because of false statements), whether you are re-trained or separated is a decision made by your commander, and/or the Military Personnel. You get no say in the matter, and often don't even get a say about what job you will be re-trained into.

Active duty assignments are based on the "needs of the service." (There are exceptions, such as a qualifying humanitarian assignment, but these are really hard to qualify for.)

Quitting or Leaving the Military

You can't simply quit the military if you don't like it; this is not an acceptable reason for discharge. Even if you quit trying in basic training, resulting in failing the program, the drill instructors will first try everything else imaginable to keep you in, including "recycling" you so you spend extra time in basic.

If the commander ultimately decides that discharge is the only course of action, you'll be reassigned to a special unit to await discharge processing.

Everybody who enters the military for the first time incurs a total eight-year service commitment. It doesn't matter if your contract says you're enlisting for two, three, four or five years active duty, you are obligated for a total of eight years. If you sign a six-year Guard/Reserve contract and elect not to reenlist at the end of the six years, you will still be obligated for an additional two years.

Basic Training and Drill Instructors Yelling

The truth is, drill instructors don't yell as much they did in years gone by. You will still get to experience plenty of yelling, but mostly during the first part of basic. After that, you will find your Drill Sergeants taking on more of a mentoring role.

This does not mean basic training has gone soft, in fact, a greater emphasis has been put on combat readiness in recent years.

Reporting Recruiter Misconduct

So, what do you do if you run into an unethical recruiter? All military commands have senior officers who's job it is to investigate wrongdoing, and the recruiting commands are no exception.

If you report it to one of these officers, it will be investigated. While it often comes down to your word against the recruiter's word, if a particular recruiter gets enough complaints against him/her, you can bet his/her bosses are going to start watching the recruiter a little more closely.