A top Army official says “enough is enough.”
That’s his reaction to a NewsChannel5 investigation that caught Army recruiters and their Dishonorable Deceptions.
The Army’s deputy director of recruiting operations sent an e-mail Tuesday morning to top Army recruiting officials across the country. That e-mail is being forwarded to rank-and-file recruiters. (Read the e-mail.)
He says he has “no better way to communicate this” other than to let them see our hidden camera video.
He adds that “this is not the first undercover story, but it should be the last” to show recruiters engaged in such misconduct.
And what about the men and women NewsChannel 5 Investigates caught on camera?
Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams went on a mission in search of those recruiters.
In a time of war, with American soldiers dying every day, it’s tough to be an Army recruiter.
“People are afraid to even talk to us,” a recruiter in Madison, Tenn., confides to our undercover producer.
But the video we captured on hidden cameras had recruiters not wanting to talk to us.
“I’ll show you if you want to see it,” Williams tells the station commander in Antioch, Tenn.
“No, I don’t need to see it, sir,” he replies, pushing down the top of a DVD player.
In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Phil confronted a recruiting sergeant that we caught on tape.
“Would you ever recommend that a recruit lie to get into the Army?” Williams asks.
“Like I say, you have to talk to…,” the sergeant answers, pointing inside to his commander.
“It’s simple yes or no question, sir,” Williams interjects.
The sergeant still won’t answer.
Sergeant: “I know but we….”
“There is no pressure that should cause you to compromise your integrity,” says Lt. Col. Patrick Brewington of U.S. Army Recruiting.
That’s what Brewington says is the Army’s official position.
But inside its recruiting stations we discovered a different attitude.
“Bottom line is I take Zoloft,” our undercover producer tells each recruiter.
He was re-enacting the real-life story of Pvt. Jay Mallard, who killed himself during basic training after — his family says — a recruiter urged him to lie about his long-term dependence on antidepressants. (Watch the videos.)
“It ain’t going to look too good if all of a sudden you like pull up your M-16 and start whacking people,” the Murfreesboro recruit tells us.
While the sergeant insists that the Army has a good reason to know the truth, inside his offices, he tells his potential recruit that he’ll keep the secret if the man really wants to enlist.
“There’s ways around the system,” he confides.
“You’ve probably seen TV reports and all that. More or less, me and you are the only ones that know it.”
After the sergeant invited us inside to see his commander, even the commander had to stop to watch and listen to the whispered conversations in a back room of the recruiting office.
“The only thing they know about you is what you tell them,” the recruiter adds.
Remember: the recruiters help fill out this medical screening form which carries a warning that there are severe penalties — up to five years confinement — to anyone making a false statement.
“The only thing they know about you is what you tell them,” Williams repeats to the sergeant and his commander. “Is this the way the Army recruits soldiers?”
“No, sir, it is not,” the commander replies.
Brewington says, “That is not how we expect our recruiters to behave. As a result, it appears they did not uphold the values and they compromised their integrity.”
A recruiter in Antioch, Tenn., tells our undercover producer, “If you take this and you get to basic training and you take it with you, you can’t have it in a bottle.”
Over and over, the recruiters tell our potential recruit that he’ll have to hide his medications or quit cold turkey.
“One thing that we do not test for when we do like a drug and alcohol test, we do not test for that,” the Murfreesboro recruiter says.
But they assure him that he probably won’t have to worry about the Army catching him in his lie.
“We don’t go pull everybody’s medical records… unless they … actually give us a medical reason,” the Madison recruiter adds.
Brewington says, “I would say that is not indicative of the over 8,000 recruiters that we have across the recruiting command.”
But Congressman Jim Cooper isn’t so sure.
“If you caught three, there are probably a lot more out there,” he tells Williams.
Cooper, D-Tennessee, sits on the House Armed Services Committee, which has been investigating the Army’s lies in the cases of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tilman.
“To encourage people to lie to the federal government about their own medications and their own health situations, that’s an outrage,” Cooper adds. “It’s got to be stopped and it’s got to be stopped now.”
Despite the Army’s slick recruiting ads, top brass have known for some time that, as recruiters face increasing pressure to recruit, some also feel increasing pressure to cheat.
Two years ago, the Army ordered a day-long recruiting stand-down after numerous allegations of misconduct.
And the Antioch recruiter says she’s to be careful and let the recruit decide for himself about whether he’s going to lie to get into the Army.
“That’ll be your decision,” she says, “’cause we are not gonna get you into a situation where it’s bad on you, it’s bad on us.”
Cooper says he doesn’t just blame the recruiters.
“I blame the folks up the chain of command. They are getting orders, pressure and relax standards to say fill the quota regardless of what it takes.”
In fact, the Army’s own figures show that 5 of every 10 recruiters who were found to have engaged in improprieties were relieved of duty five years ago.
Now, just 3 out of 10 get the harshest penalty. (See “Summary of Army Recruiting Investigations.”)
“Kindly leave the office,” the Antioch station commander tells Williams.
“Do you want to see what one of your recruiters was doing?” Williams asks.
He answers. “I’m going to see that probably on the news tonight, sir.”
As for the recruiters we caught on tape, Cooper says what we showed him is “sufficiently grave that we need to have a full-scale nationwide investigation.”
The congressman says he fears recruiters could be putting people who may be unstable out with soldiers who already have enough to worry about.
In his e-mail, the deputy director of Army recruiting said — after watching our video — it was obvious to him that some “soldiers just don’t get it.”
He says they’ve had recruiting stand-downs before. But now, they’ve got to do something about the problems and not just let them continue.