Military Enlistment Ruins Lives
Pat Elder | Counter-Recruit Press | November 2016
The military is the scourge of the American experience. Our military is a scourge on the American experience. Forty percent of those recruited every year drop out in the first few months. Two million are seriously hurt every year. Desertions are rampant. Nearly half of all veterans who get out have filed injury claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, whose waiting list stands at a quarter million. Suicide is at record levels and so are rapes and assaults. It’s a monstrous institution in desperate need of reform, but the public fails to hold it responsible for the staggering level of human suffering it causes.
Harsh criticism of every major American governmental institution, including all of the executive departments, is a deeply ingrained part of the American experience, but criticism of the military is off limits. We are conditioned to “support the troops” and every aspect of American militarism. Evidence of the destructive role the military plays in the life of the country is overwhelming, yet when Gallup asks Americans to rate their most trusted institutions the military consistently ranks at the top of the list. Gallup’s poll of July 2014 showed that 74% of Americans had either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the institution. Another 20% of Americans have "some" confidence in the military. The military has ranked at the top of the list all but one year since 1989. The current 74% confidence level is significantly higher than the average 67% rating given the military since it was first measured in 1975. Interestingly, the same poll showed that an all-time low, just 7% of Americans, have confidence in the US Congress.
In September of 2015, Gallup asked Americans about their confidence in the media's ability to report "the news fully, accurately, and fairly" and only 40% thought it did—also an all-time low.
Americans don’t trust Congress, the very institution that is charged with representing their interests and guaranteeing their rights. They are also losing their faith in the media, leaving them rudderless in a hostile and rising tide of corporate ascendency. In this environment it is frightening to witness blind faith in the military, among the country’s least democratic and least transparent institutions.
In the words of the great peace and justice advocate Medea Benjamin,
Obsessed with maintaining access to power, the mainstream media just keeps handing their megaphone to the powerful and self-interested. Rarely do we hear from people who opposed the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq or rightly predicted the chaos that would result from NATO intervention in Libya. The few anti-war voices who manage to slip into the dialogue are marginalized and later silenced. Let’s face it: fear sells, violence sells, war sells.
Perhaps Orwell’s description of “DOUBLETHINK” in Nineteen Eighty-Four can help to put this into perspective:
The subtlest practitioners of DOUBLETHINK are those who invented DOUBLETHINK and know that it is a vast system of mental cheating. In our society, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion; the more intelligent, the less sane. One clear illustration of this is the fact that war hysteria increases in intensity as one rises in the social scale. - George Orwell, 1984
Orwell’s quote provides an excellent segue. The American people are duped. They’ve been deceived, tricked, and defrauded, but on a different level they know the score. The military is the nation’s most trusted institution because militarism and war are marketed like other consumable American commodities. The military defends our freedoms and Huggies Little Movers Camo Diapers “go on the march,” exclusively at Walmart. But, our boy, who spent two tours in Iraq, is losing his mind, drinking himself to death while the VA continues to deny his disability compensation benefits. Orwell’s doublethink pervades the public’s attitudes concerning the military. Consider the issue of military desertions.
Eddie Slovik was the last American service member to be executed for desertion. Researcher Karen Mercury tells Slovik’s story,
The execution was carried out in France on January 31, 1945. Eddie told his commander he was too scared to serve in a rifle company, asking to be assigned to a rear area unit. He told the commander he’d run away if sent to the front. Eddie was denied his request and sent to the front. He was immediately arrested. Shortly thereafter, soldiers strapped him to a post with belts and the chaplain said to him, “Eddie, when you get up there, say a little prayer for me.” Slovik said, “Okay, Father. I’ll pray that you don’t follow me too soon.” And Slovik was slammed with eleven bullets.
Most Americans know death is the penalty for desertion but they probably don’t know when the last execution for this “crime” occurred or have any clue regarding the numbers of desertions in today’s military. Certainly, they must think, it has to be a very low number! Actually, there were more than 20,000 deserters from the Army alone during the period from 2006 to 2014. Desertion is so common the military often looks the other way. The Army has pursued just 1,900 cases of desertion since 2001, and most of these prosecutions have resulted in little more than a slap on the wrist.
Desertions are just one manifestation of a dysfunctional American military. The overwhelming majority of Americans who would qualify for military service aren’t interested. The recruiting command is experiencing its greatest crisis since the end of the draft in 1973, although most Americans are oblivious.
For instance, click on www.goarmy.com/about and this is what you’ll see:
The U.S. Army is made up of the most dedicated, most respected Soldiers in the world. These Soldiers protect America’s freedoms while serving at home and abroad, and they are always prepared to defend the nation in times of need.
Click on Soldier Life and the disconnection with reality becomes even more apparent, “You’ll spend your days training, working and serving together to protect America’s freedoms. You’ll also have time after work for family, friends and personal interests. From recruitment to retirement, the U.S. Army provides a unique lifestyle.”
It all sounds pretty enticing, but 15% of all enlistees don't make it through initialentry training, and another 25% leave during their first permanent duty assignment in the operational Army. That means nearly 40% of all Army enlistees never complete their first term.
The recruiting command is headed for a calamity on many fronts, notwithstanding the sophisticated marketing campaign that suggests otherwise. Not only do nearly half leave right off the bat, but the pool of potential recruits continues to shrink. Over 75% of the 30.6 million Americans between ages 17 and 24 can’t become soldiers due to four main factors: inability to pass the enlistment test, criminal records, obesity, and other health issues.
There is, however, no valid data for the generalizations the military circulates about failure rates for the enlistment test. These estimates misrepresent the capacity of the general population to pass the ASVAB. The military-misinformation machine making these misrepresentations doesn’t want to admit that intelligent people are more likely to make a non-military choice, so they use statistics that filter them out. This trick helps them justify greater militarization of our schools.
Each year less than 400,000 young people become truly eligible for military service, but across all the services, around 250,000 are “needed”. Each Army recruiter averages just 10 contracts a year. The numbers are similar for the Navy and the Marine Corps. The Army alone initiates 16,000,000 contacts a year—in the hopes of signing up 68,000 recruits for active duty.
We can see why so many youth report being hounded by recruiters from all branches.
Obviously, one way to deal with the dropouts and desertions is to allow more recruits in by easing the requirements. For instance, the leading factor prohibiting enlistment is obesity, causing approximately 20% of ineligibilities.
Throughout its history the Army has always demanded that all recruits meet the same rigorous physical requirements, but the top command is considering relaxing these requirements for Military Occupational Specialties (MOS’s) that don’t require a great deal of physical stamina. This might free leaner recruits for more rigorous duty. From Military.com,
Today, we need cyber warriors, so we're starting to recruit for Army Cyber," Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet said. "One of the things we're considering is that your [mission] as a cyber warrior is different." Maybe you're not the Ranger who can do 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups and run the 2-mile inside of 10 minutes, but you can crack a data system of an enemy. "But you're physically fit, you're a healthy person and maintain your professional appearance, but we don't make you have the same physical standards as someone who's in the Ranger Battalion.
Reportedly, recruits' scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) have plummeted in recent years, making even fewer eligible to enlist. Batschelet, the Army’s top recruiter, says the inability of potential recruits to clear the ASVAB test is of more concern than obesity. It's easier to help a soldier make weight than improve his smarts, he says.12 But this doesn’t apply to the vast majority of high school seniors who are heading to college and better employment opportunities. They have the smarts to pass the simple enlistment test. They’re just not interested in the military. They’ve got better options.
The Army is considering relaxing minimal ASVAB scores to allow the lowest echelon recruits to enlist. Army regulations allow for 4% of enlistees to score in Category IV (10th to 30th percentile) and no more than 40% to score lower than Category IIIA (50th percentile or higher). Relaxing this criterion or substituting a non-academic personality test may open the floodgates to recruits who have hitherto been locked out. They may not be the brightest soldiers to join the ranks but, the Army reasons, some may have a greater propensity to stick it out.
The Army is toying with the idea of dispensing with the ASVAB in some cases if a candidate demonstrates a propensity to stick with the program. The Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System, or TAPAS, is being given at Military Entrance Processing Stations to ‘screen in’ candidates who are adaptive, resilient and have dedication, but perhaps scored only marginally on the ASVAB. According to Lt. Gen. James C. McConville, Lieutenant General Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, "It's not necessarily SAT scores, it's not necessarily GPAs, it's people who have grit. And so how do you define grit -- how do you measure that?"
It may be tough to measure grit, but it’ll probably involve soldiers who are barely literate if they can’t score at least above the 31% threshold on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, or AFQT.
Rick Jahnkow of the San Diego-based Project on Youth & Non-Military Opportunities (YANO) explains,
They will have to stop having recruiters initially promise a particular MOS. In the past they have traditionally elected to allow recruiters to offer some degree of job guarantee. While this benefits recruiting, it also reduces the military's post-basic training assignment flexibility. If there is going to be an increase in recruits who score marginally on the ASVAB and are accepted because of their "grit," they will need more flexibility for job assignments after basic. So stopping the practice of recruiters offering an MOS guarantee would become necessary, even if it would require recruiters to work harder to sell enlistment.
The average recruit is in terrible shape, compared to his predecessors, and not simply in terms of weight. He is much more prone to being injured, leaving the ranks even further depleted. The statistics are mind-boggling because we’re conditioned to think of the Army in terms of being an invincible force.
It takes much longer today for the military to transform civilians into traditionally “qualified service members,” while the amount of time allotted to basic training and the overall rigor of the program hasn’t changed much from the days when youth were in much better shape. The process is excruciating for tens of thousands who must endure it annually. Something has to give, and it is typically not the drill sergeant.
The Army could stretch out the boot camp and start soldiers off by walking and doing very light calisthenics for a few weeks, but that would require a degree of humanism and common sense generally lacking in the chain of command. Instead, new soldiers are breaking bones and wreaking havoc on their bodies in record numbers.
According to a 2013 article by Dr. Bradley Nindl, science advisor for the U.S. Army Institute of Public Health, musculoskeletal injuries (MSI) represented the leading cause of medical care visits across the military services resulting in almost 2,200,000 medical encounters in 2012 alone.
Many of the injury-related musculoskeletal conditions are due to the cumulative effects of repetitive microtrauma forces: overreaching/ training, overuse, overexertion, and repetitive movements experienced during both occupational duties and physical training. Overuse injuries are an indicator that a unit is overtraining. Of the almost 750,000 MSIs reported in 2006 in military medical surveillance data on active duty, nondeployed service members, 82% were classified as overuse.
According to the article the Army’s deployment readiness was at just 85% for active duty and only 70% for Guard and Reserve forces because of the MSI problem.
Tens of thousands of soldiers desert their posts. 40% drop out in the first few months, thousands fail an elementary-level entrance test, and three-quarters of a million who aren’t even deployed sustain musculoskeletal injuries every year
But it gets worse.
USA Today reported in April of 2015 that nearly half of the 770,000 soldiers polled in 2014 “have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs,” according to resiliency assessments soldiers are required to take every year. “The effort produced startlingly negative results. In addition to low optimism and job satisfaction, more than half reported poor nutrition and sleep, and only 14% said they are eating right and getting enough rest.”
Taken all together the reality of military life and the squeaky clean marketing image just don’t jibe. Factor in the abysmal treatment offered by the Veterans Affairs Administration and the entire military conflagration looks like a major train wreck.
Forty-five percent of the 1.6 million veterans of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have filed injury claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, the veterans are claiming an average of 8-9 physical or mental injuries each. (For comparison, only 21% of veterans filed injury claims after the 1991 Gulf War.)
The following numbers were supplied by the DOD in 2012 for various injuries claimed by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans:
- More than 1,600 of them lost a limb; many others lost fingers or toes.
- At least 156 are blind, and thousands of others have impaired vision.
- More than 177,000 have hearing loss, and more than 350,000 report tinnitus (noise or ringing in the ears).
- Thousands are disfigured, as many as 200 of them so badly that they may need face transplants. One-quarter of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw, one study found.
- More than 400,000 of them have been treated by the VA for mental health problems, most commonly PTSD.
Nearly half of all the soldiers sent to a combat zone suffer a serious injury that could forever limit their ability to get a job, go to college, get married, or have a normal personal life. Enlisting is like playing Russian roulette with half the chambers loaded with bullets. The recruiting command never includes this information in their marketing campaigns. Care to hop on the bus to basic training?
Soldiers kill people. It is their raison d'etre. When they return home many obsess on their crimes.They grovel in their shame; their anxiety, guilt, and anger. They often feel alienated and without meaning. They experience withdrawal and selfhatred and as a response they harm themselves and the people they love the most. They’re taking their own lives in record numbers and the systems we’ve established to help them are failing miserably. But only a few American can connect the dots.
When the military is through with many soldiers they’re no longer Army Strong nor can they Be all they can be, although they may feel like an Army of One, left alone, considering their treatment by the Veterans Administration. The current backlog at the V.A., that is, the number of first-time VA benefits claims unresolved for more than four months, sat at around 245,000 cases in late 2014.
From Senator Gillibrand’s website:
The Military Justice Improvement Act would have moved the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement outside of the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors. 50% of female victims stated they did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done with their report. Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos said victims do not come forward because “they don’t trust the chain of command.”
John McCain, typically a poster boy for all things military, told the top U.S. military chiefs in 2013 he could not advise women to join the service with a sexual-assault scourge the military has not contained.
Just last night, a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not," the Arizona Republican, a Vietnam veteran and ex-prisoner of war, told the uniformed chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
The record presented here is extraordinarily damning to the Pentagon; nonetheless, they still manage to meet most of their annual recruiting goals, though barely. This Teflon-clad institution has built a recruiting system upon a slippery bedrock of deception and obfuscation.
Exposing the lies and countering recruitment is fundamentally revolutionary. Resisting the unprecedented and relentless militarization of American youth transcends the current US-sponsored wars du jour. Countering military recruitment confronts an ugly mix of a distinctively American brand of institutionalized violence, racism, militarism, nationalism, classism, and sexism.
The Department of Defense and a misguided American foreign policy have become destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Meanwhile, the military, paradoxically, enjoys the consent of the people. The nation is victimized by a brutal military machine and its malicious, criminal propaganda campaign. It is one of the greatest tragedies of the American experience.
Note: Chapter sources are available in the book version of this text.
Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that works to prohibit the automatic release of student information to military recruiting services from the nation's high schools. He is also creator of the website Counter-Recruit.org, which documents the deceptive practices used by the US military to recruit students into the armed forces.