- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arriving on American soil earlier today, you all might be interested in a conversation I have been following among several current and former Army officers about how recruiting mistakes made during the height of the Iraq war have come back to haunt the Army.
First, from my friend Crispin Burke:
"Looking back at many of the Soldier scandals of the past few years, a common theme is that they should have either never been brought onto active duty, or should have been kicked out of the service a long time ago. But those were the standards back in 2004-2009 or so. Cases in point:
Manning — Outbursts of violence, screaming, punched his female company commander in the face… chain of command warned not to deploy him.
Hasan — Poor performance, clear evidence of his political views. PCSed to Fort Hood.
Morlock — Marijuana smoking, went AWOL to avoid a drug test, allowed to deploy.
Bergdahl — Washed out of Coast Guard Basic Training
Bales — Multiple arrests due to alcohol-related issues. Hit-and-Run accident… never kicked out of the service, goes on to murder about a dozen Afghans."
Tom again, now quoting another friend with experience inside Army recruiting:
"I commanded the Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion.
As the battalion commander, most of the waiver requests came to me. In LA, I did a whole bunch for tattoos, drug use, and gang affiliation.
One applicant came to me for a marijuana waiver. These were very routine. If we disqualified every kid in LA who ever smoked pot, there would be precious few enlistments.
His application said that he had tried marijuana twice. In the mandatory interview, I asked him how much he smoked. ‘Three times a day.’ ‘For how long?’ ‘About two years.’
I disapproved the waiver. In my mind, it was a fraudulent enlistment because I knew it to contain false information. This started the clock on 30 days that had to pass before he could resubmit. I told him to redo the paperwork, be honest about everything in it, and come back. I stood him in front of the "Integrity" poster from the set of Army Values posters in my battalion headquarters and told him this was the standard to join the Army.
Not an hour later, my brigade commander called to chew me out because I had deviated from the Army requirements for enlistment, which did not include honesty. He told me that the recruit would learn that in basic training. Oh, and that I had just screwed the recruiter. (Of course, this was the recruiter who I knew damn well coached him on what to put on his enlistment application.)
A month later, he returned with fresh paperwork. I granted the waiver. I then called his parents, put them on the speaker phone in my office and congratulated them on having a son who was going to become a Soldier. They were all crying like babies.
This incident contributed to LA Recruiting Battalion being my last assignment in the Army. But I think I helped a young man turn a corner in his personal life, and hopefully become a good Soldier."