When Military Recruiting Goes Bad

When Military Recruiting Goes Bad

Army recruiter with potential candidate
••• Army recruiter chats with potential Army recruit in New York. Chris Hondros/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There are typically three negative issues that can occur when dealing with a recruiter and all of them are the types of problems that can ruin a career in the military.  These are:

(1) applicants who lie about their qualifications to get into the military,

(2) recruiters who encourage them to lie and

(3) recruiters who lie to applicants.

Besides the Navy motto of Honor, Courage, and Commitment, lying has greater consequences that a guilty conscience.

 As addressed in the post I Cannot Tell a Lie, the consequences of false statements on enlistment documents can end what could have been a very bright career.  However, what about the recruiter who lies or asks you to lie?

Many 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, pure and simple. Recruiter 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), 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.

Recent Televised Evidence

ABC News armed a group of high school students with hidden cameras and sent them into ten Army recruiting stations in in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, posing as potential applicants.

Sadly, the Army failed this particular recruiting ethics test. More than half of the recruiters in this probe were caught on tape making what can only be kindly referred to as "misleading" statements. In other words, they lied.

One recruiter was filmed telling the applicant that his chances of being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan after basic training and job school were"slim to none." One recruiter bluntly stated that the Army wasn't sending people to Iraq anymore -- in fact, they were bringing them home.


Another recruit was told he could quit the Army anytime he wanted to, just by asking, under a "failure to adapt" discharge. In 2005, amidst hundreds of allegations of recruiter misconduct, the Army suspended recruiting nationwide for mandatory ethics training. One of the most publicized misconduct allegations at the time also involved a student with a hidden camera, who went into an Army recruiting office posing as an addicted drug user. The recruiter not only told him that he wouldn't get into trouble if he lied, but then helped him lie on the enlistment documents.

The untrue story about recruiting is nothing new and half truths and falsehoods will likely continue with a few. As stated earlier, most recruiters are good, but all will typically sell you the most optimistic view of a career path. Sure the things they say maybe true, but the process maybe difficult or even rare to achieve certain career paths in the military.  Here are many lies, falsehoods, and half-truths you may hear from SOME recruiters - not all:

Top 10 Lies (Some) Recruiters Tell Applicants

1. Your chances of being sent to a combat zone are slim.

Truth: This depends primarily upon (1) your branch of service and (2) your military job.

For the Army and Marine Corps, almost everyone will get a chance or two to play in the sand, regardless of Military Occupation Specialty (job). However, if you want to see ground combat in these countries, join the Special Operations programs of any of the branches. For the foreseeable future, the combat units will be special operations and air support. 

Your chances of being deployed (on the ground) to Iraq and Afghanistan are not as great in the Air Force and Navy and depend much on your military job. Of course, depending on your job, you could also be deployed on a ship patrolling the Gulf region (Navy), or on any number of Air Bases (Air Force) in and around Iraq and Afghanistan. The Coast Guard keeps about five or six patrol boats in the Gulf to assist with port security.

2. Join the Marine Corps and Prepare for SEAL Training

Truth: The type of recruit who wants to be a Marine or a Navy SEAL are very similar.  Both physically fit. Both hard chargers who want to serve in a combat role with a group of like minded warriors.  However, the Navy SEAL program only takes those 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. In fact, it is easier to get to SEAL training from the street than from the Fleet. This means if you are in the Navy, Marines, or other service, transferring to SEAL training is a harder route to go through than simply attending boot camp and going to BUD/S after basic training. Typically, former Marines, after their four year enlistment, get out, join the Navy then go to SEAL training IF (and only IF) the Navy is taking sailors with prior military experience. Regardless, the numbers are small coming from active duty to SEAL training.  Do not fall for that one.

3. You are absolutely guaranteed to get the job listed on your enlistment contract.

Truth: What is actually guaranteed (somewhat) is that 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 detailed to do something else, instead (such as driving vehicles at the motor pool). Of course, in combat zones, any MOS can be cross-tasked to perform combat jobs.

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.

4. If you don't like the military, you can simply quit.

Truth: No you can't. Not liking the military 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. I've seen the process take several weeks, even months. It's not uncommon for those being discharged from basic training to still be there, long after the folks who enlisted on the same day are graduated and gone on their way to job training.

In order to be discharged from the military, there has to be an acceptable reason for discharge. For details, see the article, Getting Out of the Military.

5. If you refuse to ship out to basic training you will go to jail.

Truth: This is the opposite from Lie #4. Some applicants have been told (after signing the Delayed Enlistment Program Contract) that they can't change their minds. Some applicants have been told they would be subject to arrest and forced to go to basic. Some have been told they would go to jail, and even would lose their citizenship or lose the right to apply for citizenship if they dropped out of the DEP. The truth is, you can change your mind at any time up until the time you actually ship out to basic training and go onto active duty as covered in detail in Delayed Enlistment Program article.

6. Once you complete your enlistment you can get out and won't be called back again.

Truth: Everybody who enters the military for their 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.

Time not spent on active duty, or in the drilling reserves is spent in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserves). While in the IRR, one does not get paid, nor do they perform drill, but can be involuntarily recalled to active duty at any time. Right now, only the Army and Marine Corps have been recalling IRR members. The Army has recalled about 6,000 IRR members and the Marine Corps about 1,000 during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard is not currently involuntarily recalling IRR members.

In addition to IRR recalls, a program called STOP-LOSS allows the service to prevent (delay) separations and retirements during times of conflict. The Army and Marine Corps place individuals under STOP-LOSS when the person/unit is officially notified of an upcoming deployment (usually about 90 days before the deployment date) until 90 days following return from the deployment. The Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard do not currently have any STOP-LOSS programs in place, but have used it in the past.

7. You have a great chance of getting the assignment (location) you want.

Truth: 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.) In other words, when assignments are selected, wherever your particular branch needs your particular skill set the most is where you're going to go. If there is a tie, your "dream sheet" (assignment preference form) will be taken into consideration. In other words, if Base A and Base B both need you the most, and you have Base B on your "dream sheet," you'll probably get it. On the other hand, if you have Base C on your dream sheet, you'll be going to either Base A or B, regardless of your preferences. This is a drastically over-simplification of a fairly complex system, but those are the basics. For complete details, see my Assignment Information article.

The Army does have a program which will guarantee some (mostly combat) recruits a guaranteed first duty assignment in a few cases. However, the guarantee is good for only 12 months. After that, the Army can reassign you anywhere it wants to.

Of course, for the Guard and Reserves you will be assigned to a specific location. This is because Guard and Reserve recruiters recruit for specific vacancies in specific Guard/Reserve units.

8. If you spend 20 years in the military you can retire and receive one-half of your pay for the rest of your life.

Truth: Close, but not quite. First of all, this is only base pay. All of the allowances that you've gotten used to, such as housing allowance and food allowance, aren't included. Second, if you joined the military in 1980 or later, your retirement pay is calculated based on your highest 36 month average of base pay, not your final base pay. In other words, if you are promoted to E-7 then retire a year later with 20 years of service, your retirement pay would be calculated based on two year's average of your E-6 pay, and only one year's average of your E-7 pay. It's still not a bad deal, but not the 50 percent some are promised. More details can be found in Understanding Military Retirement Pay.

Additionally, all of your retirement pay may not belong to you. If you were married at any time during your military service, under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, any state divorce court can treat your current or future retirement pay as "community property" and award a portion of it to your ex-spouse. Considering 50 percent of military marriages end up in divorce, this is something to keep in mind.

You can also retire from the Guard or Reserves if you have 20 or more years of "qualifying service," but can't start receiving your retirement pay until you reach the age of 60. A "qualifying year" doesn't mean a normal year. It's based on earned "retirement points." For details, see Guard/Reserve Retirement Pay System Information Page.

9. They don't yell in Basic Training anymore.

Truth: The truth is, Drill Instructors don't yell AS MUCH as they did in years gone by. However, several years of study have shown this is not the most effective teaching method. However, you will still get to experience plenty of yelling, but mostly during the first part (two or three weeks) of basic. After that, you will find your Drill Sergeants taking on more of a mentoring (teaching) role. Of course, if you make major mistakes, they very well may remind you that you are in the military with a refresher yelling session.

This does not mean basic training has gone soft. In fact, ever since the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, basic training (in all the branches) have begun to focus more on direct combat training than any time before. Far less classroom instruction and far more actual combat training and practice "in the field." Instead of learning how to balance checkbooks, recruits are spending their time learning how to deal with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and learning how to shoot. 

10. This is the modern military. We don't cut off all of your hair during Basic anymore.

Truth. Yes, all branches still cut your hair in all the branches during basic training. The Navy is the only branch that also makes women cut their hair in basic (it must be cut so it is above the collar).

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 wrong-doings, 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.

Air ForceInspector GeneralAir Force Recruiting Service, HQ AFRS/CVI, Randolph AFB, TX 78150

Army. Inspector General, U.S. Army Recruiting, USAREC, Fort Knox, KY 40121

Navy. Inspector General, COMNAVCRUITCOM Code 001, 5722 Integrity Dr, Bldg 768, Millington, TN 38054

Marine Corps (East Coast). Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), Parris Island, SC 29905

Marine Corps (West Coast). Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego, CA 92140