Memorial Day weekend brought Army recruiters to campuses around the country. But what exactly are they selling?
By Wayne Meeds
For most people, Memorial Day is just another government holiday giving them an excuse to play hooky from work or school. They go to the beach or visit relatives for the weekend. For others, it is a time to remember all those who lost their lives in defense of the values that the United States represents. For me, it commemorates the best mistake of my entire life: joining the United States Navy. A mistake that made me appreciate the service that the men and women of our armed forces provide with novel clarity.
I first received a phone call in 2003 from the Navy recruiting office, which at the time was located next to Safeway on Crater Lake Highway. I was finishing my senior year of high school while working part time at the RRRink.
During the course of the conversation, the recruiter asked me questions about my plans for employment after high school. I explained that I planned to apply at Boise Cascade because I had heard that the pay and benefits for new employees were exceptionally good. The recruiter assured me that there had been recent layoffs and that I should find an alternative career path. Guess what he suggested.
I went through the process of enlisting and choosing what was then referred to as a ‘specialty’. Shortly before I was scheduled to ship out to basic training, I met the girl who would later become my wife. We became engaged, and I decided that spending time away from her was too unpleasant a prospect. One long phone call later only a week before shipping out to boot camp, and I was back to civilian life. I was 19.
In 2005, at the age of 20, I found myself unemployed. I was still engaged to the same girl, but she was the only one working. I needed to find a job, but the prospects looked grim. I decided to darken the door of the Navy recruiting office, this time on my terms. I had only one request: I didn’t want the recruiters to lie to the Navy this time.
I had a mental health evaluation my senior year of high school, which my first recruiter back then advised me to conceal. I had lost my faith and had a falling out with some people from my church, whom I called hypocrites for their lack of compassion. They called my brother who called the police who came to my home early in the morning and took me to the hospital against my will.
The suppression of this information from the knowledge of the Navy and the possibility of them discovering the evaluation weighed heavily on me and was actually the primary reason that I decided to not go ahead with my plans to enlist. This time, I wanted to lay everything out on the table so that I had nothing to hide, no reason to be afraid.
I brought a copy of my transcript from the hospital into the recruiting office with me, determined to do things the right way. The recruiter looked it over and handed it back to me. He told me that it was not a problem and that I did not need to tell the Navy about it.
I told him that I did not want to hide anything, but he told me that they would not let me in if I told them about the evaluation. He said that it was not a problem, that I should not tell them about it, and that they would not find out about it on their own. I decided to enlist, but I still planned to tell the Navy about the evaluation.
The recruiter drove me up to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, Ore to take the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, a test for ranking the education of prospective recruits and for help in assigning them to a specialty. I was also subjected to a rigorous physical examination. This was the second time I had been through this process, so I felt prepared.
During my enlistment processing, I finally had an opportunity to tell the staff about the evaluation. I choked. I had realized on the way up that the recruiter was my only ride back to Medford. I knew that if I told the truth about the evaluation and if my application was not accepted, I would have to ride home with the recruiter for four hours. I was afraid of a confrontation, so I lied. I also felt that I owed it to the recruiter to not waste his time.
After enlisting, I spent a considerable amount of time just hanging out at the recruiting office. I learned a lot from talking to the recruiters. I learned that recruiters, at least those in the Navy, volunteer for the job. I learned that they go to a special training process where they learn how to talk to prospective recruits to find their ‘dominant buying motive.’ This can be anything from going to college to traveling. I also learned that recruiters have quotas and incentives.
Recruiters are trained how to poke holes in a prospect’s concept of how they are going to achieve their goal or dominant buying motive. They then present enlistment as a way to achieve their goal through bonuses, college assistance, training they receive while in the service, or whatever aspect of enlistment seems most fitting for their specific buying motive. For me, it was money for college.
When I arrived at the Navy boot camp, located in Great Lakes, Ill., we were told that they knew that our recruiters had lied to us and that it was in the best interest of national security for recruiters to lie to recruits because without the practice, the United States would be unable to maintain a sufficient military presence. We were also told that we should just do our time and not re-enlist if we had a problem with being lied to. I had other plans.
Despite being on good enough terms with the recruiters to gain insight into their tactics, they had still lied to me about the amount of contact that I would have with my wife, whom I had married just a little over one month before. My wife had also supported my enlistment based on the false information she received from the recruiters. Lastly, when I was about to get into a cab to go to the airport, my wife cried, begging me not to go. She would later become inconsolably depressed during my absence.
I discovered in basic training that we really had no control over anything we did. Our recruit division commanders told us when to eat, sleep, march, shower, and clean. The only thing they could not control was how much we ate. I essentially regained my status as a citizen with civil rights by hunger strike. I am not proud of it, but it worked.
As soon as my recruit division commander noticed that I was not eating, the process of going home began. I was in basic training for two weeks and in separations for the following two weeks. I got to see my wife again in the Medford airport on the Fourth of July. I had never seen anything so beautiful as when I set my eyes on her in that small terminal.
You see, for me the period between Memorial Day and Independence Day marks a special time for reflection. I think about how the divorce rate is significantly higher in the military, and I think about how recruiters misrepresent the risks and requirements of service to recruits. I also have a great deal of appreciation for my basic civil liberties, which military personnel are required to sacrifice.
Don’t get me wrong: my experience does not make me resent the military or those who put their lives on the line in defense of our way of life. On the contrary, it makes me appreciate both more because I know that many if not most enlisted military personnel do so under the false assumption that recruiters are concerned with acting in their best interests.
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen sacrifice more than most people realize, and recruiters sacrifice ethics in the name of that most vital means-to-an-end concept of national security. I know that if the risks of service were accurately represented, there would still be many willing to make the sacrifices despite the risk, if only to make others proud.
I respect a person’s decision to serve their country; I just want students to know that recruiters are not ultimately looking out for them. Recruiters are trained in sales techniques, given incentives, and burdened with quotas. Approach an interaction with them the same way you would an unscrupulous used-car salesman at an ill-reputed car lot. BUYER BEWARE!