Pat Elder | Counter-Recruit Press | November 2016
Enlistment agreement is binding upon the recruit but not binding upon the military
The Enlistment/Reenlistment Document, DD FORM 4, amounts to an unconscionable sucker punch that lays out the woefully unsophisticated and uneducated recruit. It is reprehensible and entirely unacceptable that the United States of America, a nation with a rich tradition of constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, should resort to proffering this charade of an “agreement” to the vulnerable young. This document is an imprisoning, one-sided, legally obligating miscarriage of justice.
Every year American high schools produce hundreds of thousands of semi-literate youth who are routinely devoured by the vultures of American capitalism through extraordinarily complex multi-page contracts that represent corporate interests in every sector of the American marketplace. Twenty-page cell phone and credit card agreements are written in complex terms in very fine print, although these are relatively simple instruments compared to most finance and insurance contracts. High school graduates might study Chaucer and Algebra but they’re functionally illiterate and woefully unprepared for the American marketplace. They can’t comprehend the contracts that govern their lives because they don’t teach that stuff in American high schools– and they’re not likely to any time soon. The handful of corporate behemoths that control the lion’s share of the US economy prefers ignorant consumers in this regard.
These contractual entanglements produce a tyranny of the corporate elite, but they stop short of exercising the all-encompassing and incarcerating power of the military Enlistment/Reenlistment Document, DD FORM 4.
Its unlikely many military recruits read and fully comprehend the fine print in the enlistment document, although they’d be well advised to pay attention to Page 2, Sec 9. 5(b), which states
Laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice to me. Such changes may affect my status, pay, allowances, benefits, and responsibilities as a member of the Armed Forces REGARDLESS of the provisions of this enlistment/ reenlistment document.1
This is tantamount to a credit card agreement that says cardholders are locked in for a minimum of 8 years or a maximum of eternity with the possibility of interest rates reaching 100% or more without notice.
The enlistment/reenlistment document is not a contract. It is a oneway arrangement that is binding upon the recruit but not the military. The document is like the indentured servant agreement executed during the colonial period in many of the American colonies, except that the indentured servant contract typically lasted seven years, whereas the military enlistment contract lasts longer and may be renewed indefinitely.
Section 10 a. requires recruits to serve for eight (8) years. While soldiers may only serve four years of active duty, they are legally contracted, and may be called up any time, during those eight years. Too often, new recruits think they’ve signed up for four years of active duty only to find later they may be required to serve for four additional years – and longer.
During a time of “war” soldiers might be required to serve indefinitely. Section 10 c. addresses “Stop-Loss”:
As a member of a Reserve Component of an Armed Force, in time of war or of national emergency declared by the Congress, I may, without my consent, be ordered to serve on active duty, for the entire period of the war or emergency and for six (6) months after its end (10 U.S.C. 12301(a)). My enlistment may be extended during this period without my consent (10 U.S.C. 12103(c)).
Unfortunately, most high school youth are not afforded the opportunity to study constitutional law. If they did, they’d learn the crucial importance of cases like Wallace v. Chafee, the litigation of a military enlistment contract in which the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held, “One who enters a contract is on notice of the provisions of the contract. If he assents voluntarily to those provisions after notice, he should be presumed, in the absence of ambiguity, to have understood and agreed to comply with the provisions as written.”
The recruiting command doesn’t want potential recruits to spend a great deal of time thinking about the most important decision most have ever made up to this point in their lives. Consider this outrageous excerpt from the Army’s Recruiter Handbook, USAREC Manual 3-01, which gives advice to recruiters who must fill a monthly quota;
Even though face-to-face isn’t the most efficient means of prospecting, it is the most effective if excessive travel is not required. With the lowest contact to contract ratio, face-to-face prospecting should be your method of choice when you need a quick contract. Simply make a list of people you haven’t been able to contact, grab some RPIs (recruiting publicity items), and knock on some doors.2
It doesn’t have to be this way. In many European nations, where youth are much better educated in the public high schools, soldiers are allowed and encouraged to join either a professional association or a trade union representing their interests. European national forces are prohibited from victimizing individual members of the armed forces for participation in unions.
In the United States, Title 10 U.S. Code § 976 specifically prohibits soldiers from organizing or joining military unions. Military labor organizations are illegal. Collective bargaining is illegal. Soldiers who attempt to address their grievances against the military by striking, picketing, marching, or demonstrating risk arrest.3
The law is unconscionable. Eighteen-year-olds can’t be expected to possess the skills to fully understand and negotiate the military enlistment/reenlistment agreement nor are they able to advocate for themselves once they’re subjected to the chain of command.
Too often parents are exasperated and disheartened when their rebellious teen is befriended by recruiters at school and enlists without their knowledge or approval. Imagine a mother’s fear and her feelings of remorse and guilt and betrayal when she realizes her only son is joining the Army largely to spite her. It happens all too frequently.
But the Army is pretty cool because it lets you blow stuff up and the Staff Sergeant at school is a great guy and a bus ride to boot camp is a ticket out of the basement at home. Mom and dad are furious when they discover their boy and the recruiter have become fast friends and they’ve been playing one-on-one basketball in the gym after school since spring break. They’re shocked when they discover that their 18-year-old child has already signed an enlistment contract and has been placed into the Delayed Entry Program (DEP).
For many parents it’s the powerlessness and sense of betrayal that cuts most deeply. The high school, which is supposed to be a safe place for kids, encouraged the staff sergeant to ensnare their child. In a few dizzying days, mom and dad have learned about the enlistment process and the DEP and have spoken to counselors with the GI Rights Hotline, who explain there’s really not much they can do other than attempt to persuade their son not to report to basic training.
It is instructive to examine the illogical treatment of 18-year-olds in American society. Eighteen-year-olds are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages anywhere in the U.S.; they have to wait until they’re 21, and most states set the legal age for gambling at 21. Hawaii requires residents to be 21 to purchase cigarettes. Most rental car agencies set a minimum age requirement of 25.
A 20-year-old Army Specialist, returning from Afghanistan after a tour as a military police officer, wouldn’t be allowed to serve in most municipal or state police forces. Nonetheless, federal law allows 17 year-olds to enlist with parental O.K.
Almost all of the 17- and 18-year-olds recruited through their high schools are placed into the Delayed Entry Program or DEP;
The GI Rights Hotline is an excellent source on the DEP
The DEP is pushed hard by recruiters to high school seniors who are unsure what to do after graduation. A lot can happen in a year, and many people change their minds about what they want to do with their lives. Also, more and more people are realizing that recruiters misrepresent military life and lie to them. The promises made by recruiters about money for college and job skills are not really what the military is about, and many realize they don’t want to go to war for a cause they may be opposed to, have questions about, or feel is not really their concern.
Others have talked to people who have been to Iraq, and who may have been wounded or traumatized by their participation in the war. Still others are concerned about the open-ended nature of military enlistment, and have heard of soldiers being Stop-Lossed beyond the time they were supposed to get out. In the case of Sgt. Emiliano Santiago, a federal Circuit Court in April, 2005 upheld the government’s right to hold him until the year 2031, even though Santiago had already finished his eight-year commitment!
For whatever reasons, many people who have enlisted through the DEP change their minds before their ship date. They have the right to do this and do not have to go.4
The bottom line deserves repeating. Anyone in the DEP who changes their mind about joining the military can make the nightmare go away by not reporting to basic training.
Hotlines and counseling centers have logged thousands of calls from helpless and frustrated parents who’ve lost control of their children. Trained counselors explain that their son or daughter can get out of the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) by simply not showing up for boot camp and that they might be verbally threatened, but in the end there’s nothing the recruiter or anyone in the chain of command can do and they’re out. It sounds too easy, but it’s true.
In 2015, the Army managed to meet its recruiting goal of 59,000 new soldiers only because it depleted its pool of recruits in the DEP.5
What happens if the youth reports to boot camp? Is there any way out then? It’s the stuff of thousands of conversations across the country between parents and trained counselors. Mom is absolutely convinced her son won’t make it. She cites a litany of reasons: hyperactivity, bouts of depression, anxiety disorder, poor executive functioning skills, poor work ethic, etc. She’s convinced he’ll join the 40% who drop out by the end of their first term. She’s written letters to her boy’s recruiter and even the commander at the local military entrance processing station but she’s not getting any response.
Hotline counselors explain that if he hasn’t adapted to military life within his first 180 days he may be eligible for an Entry Level Performance and Conduct Discharge. Mom is advised that her son may consider seeking such a discharge if he:
• believes he made a mistake enlisting in the military,
• is not willing or able to complete his training,
• experiences emotional distress, or
• has difficulty coping with military life
This is a command-initiated discharge, which means there is no application procedure and no one has a “right” to this discharge. Visit girightshotline.org/ or call 1- 877-447-4487 for more information.
In January of 2001 the American Friends Service Committee published a brilliant brochure that is still widely distributed today. “Ten 32 Pat Elder Points to Consider Before You Sign a Military Enlistment Agreement” offers compelling advice for youth who are considering enlistment.
- Do not make a quick decision by enlisting the first time
you see a recruiter or when you are upset.
- Take a witness with you when you speak with a recruiter.
- Talk to veterans.
- Consider your moral feelings about going to war.
- Get a copy of the enlistment agreement.
- There is no period of adjustment during which you may
request and receive an immediate honorable discharge.
- Get all your recruiter’s promises in writing.
- There are no job guarantees in the military.
- Military personnel may not exercise all of the civil liberties
enjoyed by civilians.
- You will not have the same constitutional rights.
It’s not a rose garden. If you report to basic and you refuse to obey orders, you roll the dice. You could be harshly disciplined, imprisoned, and perhaps receive a dishonorable discharge. A dishonorable discharge might prevent you from working for or receiving funding from the state or federal government. It never goes away.
This sober appeal is directed toward all adolescents, including those who refuse to clean their room, take out the trash, or do the dishes.
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.