The following piece by Nick Turse is a must read and is a great companion piece to the recent New Republic article by Larry Korb, a senior Defense Department official in the Reagan Administration. 

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must be fed by a continuing flow of manpower.  Finding new recruits has been difficult.  Military recruiters, to put it mildly, are cutting corners in order to sign up new soldiers.  The result:

U.S. ground forces are
increasingly made up of a motley mix of underage teens, old-timers,
foreign fighters, gang-bangers, neo-Nazis, ex-cons, inferior officers
and a host of near-mercenary troops, lured in or kept in uniform
through big payouts and promises.

Dirty Dozen

The Pentagon’s 12-Step Program to Create a Military of Misfits
By Nick Turse

Military recruiting in 2006 has been marked by upbeat pronouncements from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claims of success by the White House, propaganda releases by the Pentagon, and a spate of recent press reports touting the way the military has made its wo/manpower goals

But the armed forces have only met with success through a fundamental
"transformation," and not the transformation of the military — that "co-evolution of concepts, processes, organizations and technology" — Rumsfeld is always talking about either. 

While the Secretary of Defense’s longstanding goal of transforming the
planet’s most powerful military into its highest tech, most agile, most
futuristic fighting force has, in the words of the Washington Post’s
David Von Drehle, "melted away," the very makeup of the Armed Forces
has been mutating before our collective eyes under the pressure of the
war in Iraq. This actual transformation has been reported, but only in
scattered articles on the new recruitment landscape in America.

Last year, despite NASCAR,
professional bull-riding, and Arena Football sponsorships; popular
video games that doubled as recruiting tools; TV commercials dripping
with seductive scenes of military glory; a "joint marketing
communications and market research and studies" program actively
engaged in measures to target for military service Hispanics, drop
outs, and those with criminal records; and at least $16,000 in
promotional costs for each soldier it managed to sign up, the U.S.
military failed to meet its recruiting goals. This year those methods
have been pumped up and taken over the top in twelve critical areas of
recruitment that make the old Army ad-line, "Be All That You Can Be,"
into material for late night TV punch lines of the future.

1.  Hard Sell

When not trolling for potential soldiers via video games, websites, or most recently the social networking site and text messaging,
the Armed Forces employ recruiters who use old-fashioned hard-sell
tactics to cajole impressionable teens into enlisting. Recently, one
New Jersey mother told her local newspaper about the Army’s persistence
in targeting her 17-year old daughter. When the mother finally asked
the Army to stop calling her child, the recruiter argued vigorously
against it. The mother, who otherwise praised the military, was
nonetheless aghast
at the recruiter’s tactics. "That’s what frightened and enraged me.
This military person telling me that I have no rights over my child,"
she said.

Teens are also subject to military advertising and high-pressure tactics at school.  The Boston Globe recently wrote that recruiters were now setting up booths in "cafeterias in high schools across the nation."  While the State Journal-Register
of Springfield, Illinois reported that local recruiters were "visiting
each school about every three to four weeks." At one school,
administrators were forced to "clam[p] down on aggressive recruiters"
and bar at least one from ever returning to campus.

2. Green to Gray

The military has always filled its rolls primarily by targeting the
young, but these days the "old" are in its sights, too. In 2005, the
Army Reserves increased their maximum enlistment age from 35 to 40;
then, later that year, to 42. This year, regular Army green went grayer
as well with a similar two-step increase that boosted active duty
enlistment eligibility to 42 years. 

3.  Back-Door Draft

Another group of old-timers has recently been targeted by
the military: the Marine Corps Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) — troops
who have left active-duty status and transitioned back into civilian
life. In August, the Marines announced that they would begin making up
for a shortage of volunteers by "dipping into [this] rarely used pool of troops to fill growing personnel gaps in units scheduled to deploy in coming months."  As the Boston Globe
noted, it was "the first time since the invasion of Iraq three years
ago that Marine commanders have taken the extraordinary step of
drafting back into uniform those who have left the ranks."

For its part, the Army, according to the Washington Post,
"has used its IRR several times since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It
has mobilized about 5,000 soldiers from that pool over the past five
years, most of them since the middle of 2004." CBS News
reports that, from the Army Reserve, "approximately 14,000 soldiers on
IRR status have been called to active duty since March 2003 and about
7,300 have been deployed to Iraq."

4.  Rubber-Stamp Promotions

Earlier this year, the Army admitted that, to maintain desperately
needed numbers, it was forgoing almost any measure of quality when it
came to its officer corps. According to 2005 Pentagon figures, 97% of
all eligible captains were promoted to major — a significant jump from
the already historically high average of 70-80%. "The problem here is that you’re not knocking off the bottom 20%," one high-ranking Army officer at the Pentagon told the Los Angeles Times.
"Basically, if you haven’t been court-martialed, you’re going to be
promoted to major." Despite near-guaranteed promotions, the San Antonio Express-News reported that the "Army expects to be short 2,500 captains and majors this year, with the number rising to 3,300 in 2007."

5.  Foreign Legion

In July, testifying
before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Undersecretary of Defense
for Personnel and Readiness David S. C. Chu listed a series of
inducements currently offered to get foreigners to risk life and limb
for Uncle Sam. These included: "President Bush’s executive order
allowing non-citizens to apply for citizenship after only one day of
active-duty military service," a streamlined application process for
service members, and the elimination of "all application fees for
non-citizens in the military."

While noting that approximately 40,000 non-citizens are already
serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, Chu offered his own solution to the
immigration crisis. With the services denied the possibility of a
draft, he made a pitch for creating a true foreign legion from a group
"potentially interested in military service," the "estimated 50,000 to
65,000 undocumented alien young adults who entered the U.S. at an early
age." Chu then talked-up legislation like the DREAM Act — which would
give illegal aliens the opportunity to, among other options, join the
military as a vehicle to conditional permanent resident status.

In addition to proposing a possible source of undocumented cannon
fodder that might prove less disturbing to Americans than their own
sons and daughters, Chu noted that the "military also has initiated
several new programs, including opportunities for those with language
skills, which may hold particular appeal for noncitizens." Just in case
noncitizens aren’t thrilled to the depths by the chance to serve with
the occupation forces in Iraq, the Army promises expedited citizenship,
quick advancement, and a host of other perks — including a boatload of
cash. In addition to "foreign language proficiency pay while on active
duty," those willing to sell their "Middle-Eastern language skills
and join the U.S. Army as a Translator Aide… in Iraq and Afghanistan"
will receive an enlistment bonus of $10,000 — a sizable sum given
yearly per capita incomes in those countries which hover in the $800-$2000 range. 

6.  Mercenary Military

To solve its wo/manpower woes, the military has also enhanced its lure at home — in the form of "more recruiters and more financial incentives."  In some cases, this can mean enlistment bonuses as high as $40,000
for those documented but poor Americans looking to put themselves
directly in harm’s way for three years as an Army infantryman or
explosive ordnance disposal specialist — markedly more than 2005
per-capita yearly income for African Americans ($16,874), Hispanics
($14,483), and even non-Hispanic Whites ($28,946).

According to a recent Associated Press
report, the Army is doling out yet more fistfuls of taxpayer dollars to
entice troops to reenlist — "an average bonus of $14,000, to eligible
soldiers, for a total of $610 million in extra payments."

Marine reenlistees seem to rake in the biggest bucks of all. This July,
Maj. Jerry Morgan, who runs the Selective Reenlistment Bonus Program,
told Stars and Stripes that "the maximum bonus has been raised… to $60,000 for Marines" serving in five critical military occupational specialties. 

Add to these sums promised benefits of up to $71,424
and $23,292, for active duty and reserve personnel respectively, to
"help pay for college" and you’ve got a potentially life-changing
bribe, provided you still have a life when that college acceptance
finally comes through.

7.  Abuse of Power

More recruiters waving more money has its pitfalls.  Last year, amid a swirl of complaints
as recruiters struggled to meet monthly goals (including tips to
potential enlistees on how to pass drug tests), the Army suspended all
recruiting activities for a one-day nationwide "stand down" to
reexamine its methods and retrain its men. Just last month, however,
the Government Accountability Office issued a report
showing that "between fiscal years 2004 and 2005, allegations and
service-identified incidents of recruiter wrongdoing increased,
collectively, from 4,400 cases to 6,500 cases; substantiated cases
increased from just over 400 to almost 630 cases; and criminal
violations more than doubled from just over 30 to almost 70 cases."

What also came to light last month, courtesy of the Associated Press
was this revelation: "More than 100 young women who expressed an
interest in joining the military in the past year were preyed upon
sexually by their recruiters." According to one of the victim’s
lawyers, a recruiter
"said to her, outright, if you want to join the Marines, you have to
have sex with me. She was a virgin. She was 17 years old." Another
teenage victim spelled out the situation quite clearly, "The recruiter
had all the power. He had the uniform. He had my future. I trusted

8.  Civilian Headhunters

Not surprisingly, given tough times and an administration that never
saw anything it couldn’t imagine privatizing, the private headhunter
has landed on the military recruitment landscape. According to Renae
Merle of the Washington Post,
as part of a pilot program that began in 2002, two Virginia-based
companies, Serco and MPRI Inc., "have more than 400 recruiters assigned
across the country, and have signed up more than 15,000 soldiers. They
are paid about $5,700 per recruit."

While these companies rake in the recruitment money, the mercenary
recruiters themselves reap cash bonuses, free gas cards, and suede
jackets. They can augment their base salary by about $30,000 a year by
successfully shuttling large numbers of aimless kids and others into
the Armed Forces. As has been true with the military’s use of private
contractors in all sorts of roles in recent years, this step has drawn
ire. According to Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Illinois), "The use of
contractors for this sensitive purpose, dealing with the lives of young
people, is troublesome." She was particularly worried by the lack of
oversight. Quality-control has been another issue. While an Army report
recommended continuing the $170 million program, it also noted that the
civilian headhunters "enlisted a lower quality of recruit."

Yet the Army’s less than complimentary assessment of the private
sector’s performance didn’t sway its officials from announcing in
August that they had awarded MPRI "a firm-fixed price requirements-type
contract for $11,196,996 as the base-period portion of an estimated
$34,272,571 contract (if all options are exercised) for recruiting
services to… be performed at any of the Army’s 1,700 recruiting
stations nationwide."

9.  How Low Can You Go?

Lowered standards have hardly remained the property of privateers these days.  As Brad Knickerbocker of the Christian Science Monitor
noted, "The Army has had to recruit more soldiers from the ‘lowest
acceptable’ category based on test scores, education levels, personal
background, and other indicators of ability." Even Undersecretary of
Defense Chu admitted in July that almost 40% of all military recruits scored in the bottom half of the Armed Forces’ own aptitude test.

Other how-low-can-you-go indicators of the military’s desperation are
now regularly surfacing in news reports. Here are two examples:

Last year, the New York Times
reported that two Ohio recruiters were quick to sign up a recruit
"fresh from a three-week commitment in a psychiatric ward… even after
the man’s parents told them he had bipolar disorder — a diagnosis that
would disqualify him." After senior officers found out, the mentally
ill man’s enlistment was canceled, but in "[i]nterviews with more than
two dozen recruiters in 10 states," the Times heard others talk of "concealing mental-health histories and police records," among other illicit practices.

In May of this year, the Oregonian
reported that Army recruiters, using hard sell tactics and offering
thousands of dollars in enlistment bonus money, signed up an autistic
teenager "for the Army’s most dangerous job: cavalry scout." The boy,
who had been enrolled in "special education classes since preschool"
and through "a special program for disabled workers…ha[d] a part-time
job scrubbing toilets and dumping trash," didn’t even know the U.S. was
at war in Iraq until his parents explained it to him after he was first
approached by a recruiter. Only following a flurry of negative
publicity, did the Army announce that it would release the autistic teen from his enlistment

10.  Armed and Considered Dangerous

In 2004, the Pentagon instituted a "Moral Waiver Study" whose seemingly
benign goal was "to better define relationships between pre-Service
behaviors and subsequent Service success." That turned out to mean
opening the recruitment doors to potential enlistees with criminal
records. In February of this year, the Baltimore Sun
wrote that there was "a significant increase in the number of recruits
with what the Army terms ‘serious criminal misconduct’ in their
background" — a category that included: "aggravated assault, robbery,
vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and making terrorist
threats." From 2004 to 2005, the number of those recruits had spiked by
over 54%, while alcohol and illegal drug waivers, reversing a four-year
downward trend, increased by over 13%.

In June, the Chicago Sun-Times
reported that, under pressure to fill the ranks, the Army had been
allowing in increasing numbers of "recruits convicted of misdemeanor
crimes, according to experts and military records." In fact, as the
military’s own data indicated, "the percentage of recruits entering the
Army with waivers for misdemeanors and medical problems has more than
doubled since 2001."

One beneficiary of the Army’s new moral-waiver policies gained a
certain prominence this summer. After Steven D. Green, who served in
the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, was charged in a rape and quadruple
murder in Mahmudiyah, Iraq, it was disclosed
that he had been "a high-school dropout from a broken home who enlisted
to get some direction in his life, yet was sent home early because of
an ‘anti-social personality disorder.’" Recently, Eli Flyer, a former
Pentagon senior military analyst and specialist on "the relationship
between military recruiting and military misconduct" told Harper’s Magazine
that Green had actually "enlisted with a moral waiver for at least two
drug- or alcohol-related offenses. He committed a third alcohol-related
offense just before enlistment, which led to jail time, though this
offense may not have been known to the Army when he enlisted."

With Green in jail awaiting trial, the Houston Chronicle
reported in August that Army recruiters were trolling around the
outskirts of a Dallas-area job fair for ex-convicts. "We’re looking for
high school graduates with no more than one felony on their record,"
one recruiter said.

The Army has even looked behind prison bars for fill-in recruits —
in one reported case, a "youth prison" in Ogden, Utah. Although Steven
Price had asked
to see a recruiter while still incarcerated and was "barely 17 when he
enlisted last January," his divorced parents say "recruiters used false
promises and forged documents to enlist him." While confusion exists
about whether the boy’s mother actually signed a parental consent form
allowing her son to enlist, his "father apparently wasn’t even at the
signing, but his name is on the form too."

11.  Gang Warfare

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, law enforcement
officials report that the military is now "allowing more applicants
with gang tattoos because they are under the gun to keep enlistment
up." They also note that "gang activity may be rising among soldiers."
The paper was provided with "photos of military buildings and equipment
in Iraq that were vandalized with graffiti of gangs based in Chicago,
Los Angeles and other cities."

Last month, the Sun-Times
reported that a gang member facing federal charges of murder and
robbery enlisted in the Marine Corps "while he was free on bond — and
was preparing to ship out to boot camp when Marine officials recently
discovered he was under indictment." While this particular recruit was
eventually booted from the Corps, a Milwaukee Police Detective and Army
veteran, who serves on the federal drug and gang task force that
arrested the would-be Marine, noted that other "[g]ang-bangers are
going over to Iraq and sending weapons back… gang members are getting
access to military training and weapons."

Earlier this year, it was reported that an expected transfer of
10,000-20,000 troops to Fort Bliss, Texas caused FBI and local law
enforcement to fear "a turf war" between "members of the Folk Nation gang…[and] a criminal group that is already well-established in the area, Barrio Azteca."  The New York Sun
wrote that, according to one FBI agent, "Folk Nation, which was founded
in Chicago and includes several branches using the name Gangster
Disciples, has gained a foothold in the Army."

12.  Trading Desert Camo for White Sheets

Another type of "gang" member has also begun to proliferate within the
military, evidently thanks to lowered recruitment standards and an
increasing urge by recruiters to look the other way. In July, a study
by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing
militia groups, found that — due to pressing manpower concerns —
"large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" are now serving
the military. "Recruiters
are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the
armed forces and commanders don’t remove them from the military even
after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members," said
Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator quoted in the report.

The New York Times noted that the neo-Nazi magazine Resistance
is actually recruiting for the U.S. military "urg[ing] skinheads to
join the Army and insist on being assigned to light infantry units." As
the magazine explained, "The coming race war and the ethnic cleansing
to follow will be very much an infantryman’s war… It will be
house-to-house… until your town or city is cleared and the alien races
are driven into the countryside where they can be hunted down and

Apparently, the recruiting push has worked. Barfield reported that he
and other investigators have identified a network of neo-Nazi
active-duty Army and Marine personnel spread across five military
installations in five states. "They’re communicating with each other
about weapons, about recruiting, about keeping their identities secret,
about organizing within the military." Little wonder that "Aryan
Nations graffiti" is now apparently competing for space among American
inner-city gang graffiti in Iraq.

Force Transformation

When the American war in Vietnam finally ground to a halt, the U.S.
military was in a state of disarray, if not near-disintegration.
Uniformed leaders vowed never-again to allow the military to be
degraded to such a point.

A generation later, as the ever less appetizing-looking wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan spiral on without end, an overstretched Army and Marine
Corps have clearly become desperate. At a remarkable cost in dollars,
effort, and lowered standards, recruiting and retention numbers
are being maintained for now. The result: U.S. ground forces are
increasingly made up of a motley mix of underage teens, old-timers,
foreign fighters, gang-bangers, neo-Nazis, ex-cons, inferior officers
and a host of near-mercenary troops, lured in or kept in uniform
through big payouts and promises.

In the latter half of the Vietnam War, as the breakdown was occurring,
American troops began to scrawl "UUUU" on their helmet liners — an
abbreviation that stood for "the unwilling, led by the unqualified,
doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful." The U.S. ground forces of
2007 and beyond, fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other war du jour
may increasingly resemble the collapsing military of the Vietnam War,
the band of criminal misfits sent behind enemy lines during World War
II in the classic Vietnam-era film, The Dirty Dozen, or the janissaries of the old Ottoman Empire. 

With a growing majority of Americans opposed
to the war in Iraq, even ardent hawks refusing to enlist in droves, and
the Pentagon pulling out ever more stops and sinking to new lows in
recruitment and retention, a new all-volunteer generation of UUUU’s may
emerge — the underachieving, unable, unexceptional, unintelligent,
unsound, unhinged, unacceptable, unhealthy, undesirable, unloved,
uncivil, and even un-American, all led by the unqualified, doing the
unnecessary for the ungrateful. Current practices suggest this may well
be the force of the future. It certainly isn’t the new military Donald
Rumsfeld’s been promising all these years, but there’s no denying the
depth of the transformation.

Nick Turse is the Associate Editor and Research Director of He has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the
Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for Tomdispatch. Articles from
his recent Los Angeles Times series, "The War Crimes Files" can be
found here.

Copyright 2006 Nick Turse

Previous articleMutiny in America?
Next articleMonitoring Howie Kurtz. Again.
Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.
  • guess who

    leslie, some of these heroes will probably become police officers, some firefighters & e.m.t.s, alot will vie for whatever shit jobs are avaiable, others will spend yrs in physical theraphy, many will go back to their university studies, some will just pick up where they left off, some will become journalists, some will enter public service or political life, some will come back & present their families with long sought after u.s. citizenship.your twisted & cynical descriptions of are troops disgust me. will some of them wig out, probably, however alot of people wig out who have never served. i agree congress should fund veterans services, etc. as for them being “unloved”: some people just aren’t lucky that way, veterans or not,i’d venture to say most of our troops are loved very deeply by their families & friends, as well they should be. our all voluntary military exemplifies the very bravest & best. since you’re concerned about their welfare, why not send a few bucks to any of a number of veterans organizations. i personally like “salute americas heroes”, it’ll help out with car payments, mortgages, rent, etc. you can find them on the web. as for your cliche 2nd amendment remark, it was pandering to the gun grabbing far left of the democratic party, that’s what cost gore the election.

  • Thinker

    Well all I can say is any initiative that officially contravenes the Geneva Convention will be repealed when the Dems get back in [shortly] and I suspect even Bush realises he is wasting breath on this one!

    The concept ‘unlawful combatant’ has failed and is buried, so secret prisons are the only option now. It’s when secrets are revealed that the good and the true vanish with haste.

  • Leslie

    And what happens when these now militarily trained and war-hardened underachieving, unable, unexceptional, unintelligent, unsound, unhinged, unacceptable, unhealthy, undesirable, unloved, uncivil, and even un-American return to the States? Where the GOP wants to make it easier to purchase and carry weapons, while simultaneously cutting funds for veterans services, police, first-responders and healthcare.

  • This is SO depressing.

    On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman has featured the many stories of women who were assaulted by recruiters, and women in the military who were assaulted by fellow soldiers.

    And, yesterday, an exasperated Peter Galbraith — who has a new book out about Iraq — was testifying before Chris Shays’ House subcommittee, and pointed out that one reason for getting out of Iraq is so that we can REPAIR our military and have it at the ready should we need it for other reasons. Galbraith pointed out that our diplomatic efforts with Iran are greatly hampered because Iran knows that our military is bogged down in Iraq and can’t possibly pose a threat to Iran. If we hadn’t gotten into this mad mess in Iraq, we’d be in a POSITION of OPERATING FROM STRENGTH with Iran. Sigh.

    (C-Span has reaired that hearing several times … do try to catch it. It was incredibly good. Even though it was pretty clear that Chris Shays was doing it to give himself a lot of face time on TV, to help his flagging reelection campaign. There was also a professor from Stanford who talked about the impossibility of our situation in Iraq…. very good too.)

  • The US military in high schools is much worse then is being reported. I’ve been eyewitness to their tactics, promotions and constant cajoling of students.

    Students are now being FORCED to take the ASVAB placement test and are not being informed that they have the right to refuse. The school and the military are also refusing to notify parents in regards to this testing and when it is being done.

    Once this test is taken, the military then relentlessly targets the potential recruits with phone calls, mail, email and constant badgering at the high schools.

    Even the elementary schools are not exempt from the military making their appearance and putting on a ‘good face’, encouraging these young children to join the military.

    The tactics used are a violation of our rights, our kids rights and should be stopped immediately.

    Schools are not for recruitment, but for learning.

    If that jackass in office wasn’t so busy manufacturing terrorism, maybe our domestic situation would improve enough that high school graduates would have a few opportunities for employment. Most don’t and are being forced to turn to the only ‘offer’ there is. This is no accident, but is a forced economic hardship for young people throughout America to continue to provide cannon fodder for the neo-con war machine.

    F*ck Bush, F*ck war, I’m absolutely sick to death of watching our kids being ground up into hamburger.

    What this country need is a revolution and drag these rotten scum-sucking bastards out of office and hang them in the streets. I’ve had enough.

  • TheOtherWA

    Even though Bush loves starting wars, he sure doesn’t care about the miltary. Lowering standards to keep recruits coming in is fine with him.

    And didn’t Bush throw all the service members under the bus yesterday with his performance in the Rose Garden? A reporter (David Gregory?) asked what the president’s response would be if other countries did exactly what he’s proposing. Bush had no problem with the idea of US soldiers and intelligence officers being “roughly interrogated” or to put it bluntly, tortured.

    As long as he gets what he wants, he doesn’t give a damn what happens to others.