Perhaps, in a culture where one-third of women serving in the U.S. military can expect to be raped, I shouldn’t be surprised when a Marine recruiter is charged with impregnating a 17-year old girl in a high school where he was recruiting students to serve.
I’m not surprised. I’m outraged.
Nestled within a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a list of examples of different types of “recruiter irregularities” recorded in 2008. The list, which included recruiters lying to National Guard applicants about the realities of service, purchasing drugs with a Navy recruit and falsifying information in an Air Force application packet, made note of several instances of sexual misconduct, one of them the aforementioned incident that resulted in pregnancy.
The report does give examples of disciplinary action taken by the military, but does not connect that action with the abuse that precipitated it.
Sadly, none of this is new. This report from Veterans for Peace illustrates that dozens of such cases are uncovered each year. Who knows how many are silenced?
GAO does give the U.S. Department of Defense credit for an unspecified improvement in recruiter accountability. One would hope for progress in that arena. A GAO report released in 2008 found that the military’s programs to counter rampant sexual assault among its ranks were inadequate in at least five key ways.
In the new report, the GAO recommended that the Defense Department better integrate the reporting of such incidents and adequately train each wing of the military in tracking and reporting, as well as to take steps to make the data more accessible and transparent.
The Defense Department concurred with the recommendations in the report, and outlined plans to comply. But is that the best solution? The notion that a reporting system will preclude this kind of abuse ignores some of the more important cracks in this system.
In a way, recruiters for the U.S. military have one of the toughest jobs around. And in general, they don’t apply or volunteer for such an assignment.
Chief among the difficulties faced in such a job is the notion that a recruiter much reach a quota, or goal, of warm bodies volunteering for military service. In order to reach these goals (which one assumes increase in wartime, and even more so in a time of multiple deployments and defections) some find it necessary to fudge the awful truth of war and life in the military in general. This is pretty well documented; you can watch a whole slew of undercover videos of recruiters lying to potential recruits here and here you’ll find a list of the top ten lies told by recruiters.
One lie that is not explicitly expressed in that list is the implicit lie that a soldier will be taken care of for the rest of his or her life in exchange for serving the nation. As I’ve pointed out before, most of us believe that all veterans’ health needs are covered by the Veterans Administration. But it’s simply not true. And even if they can get coverage, the quality of care is not as unfailingly excellent as some politicians might have us believe, a fact that many were faced with for the first time in the shocking reports about abuse at Walter Reed Hospital in 2007.
So, the fact that some find it necessary to lie to meet their quotas might suggest to the attentive that serving in the military really isn’t all its cracked up to be. Furthermore, a quick study of the usual target of recruiters — adolescents — illustrates the delicacy of the situation. Perhaps you’ve seen the military’s ad campaign where parents are depicted deciding to trust in the wisdom of their clench-jawed teen who wants to join the military. These people know what they’re doing. Recruits on the other hand, often do not.
Should there be any wonder then, as to why communities might reject huge recruitment centers that spend millions in taxpayer dollars to entice children into the military with intense video games and the chance to sit in a real tank? The efforts of concerned parents to keep recruiters out of their kids’ high schools make a lot more sense in this context. And, in the nature of a vicious cycle, the need for recruiters to lie to potential service members becomes even more evident in light of such efforts.
Yet, what is the alternative? Rely even more heavily than we already are on military contractors who rape and murder with even more impunity than the military, and who set up offshore shadow offices to evade taxes and avoid paying the benefits their employees deserve?
Or do we risk the international instability that may occur if we withdraw from our war zones, in order to save the nation’s moral soul?
There are precious few choices here, and anyone who tells you differently is lying.
I guess in this case the most we can hope for is that perhaps the 17-year-old pregnant girl in question was one of the few exposed to the truth of military culture before she joined up.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS