Stand Down: Army to Spend Day Retraining Recruiters due to Widespread Scandals

New York Times

Stand Down: Army to Spend Day Retraining Recruiters due to Widespread Scandals

Responding to reports about widespread abuses of the rules for recruitment, Army officials said yesterday that they would suspend all recruiting on May 20 and use the day to retrain its personnel in military ethics and the laws that govern what can and cannot be done to enlist an applicant.

Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the recruiting command at its headquarters in Fort Knox, Ky., said that every member of the command, including 7,500 recruiters nationwide and senior officers, was scheduled to take part in the day of instruction, called a “values stand-down.”

Mr. Smith said the Army would re-introduce recruiters to legal recruiting practices and the rules that prohibit them from lying to applicants or hiding information from the military that could make them ineligible to serve. He said the focus of the day would also be on reminding recruiters to take advantage of counseling services that might alleviate stress brought on by long workdays and the repeated rejection of their appeals by prospects.

“It’s ethics-under-pressure training,” Mr. Smith said. “We want to emphasize that bending the rules is not the way to make mission.”

In the past, the Army has used stand-downs, or time for reflection away from normal duties, to re-emphasize safety precautions after serious accidents. In 20 years, Mr. Smith said, the Army has never set aside a full day to specifically address recruitment abuses. “It’s reflective of the current climate,” Mr. Smith said. “Some of it is simply part of an Armywide reaffirmation of ethics. It also is directly related to the allegations that we’ve seen of recruiting improprieties.”

The one-day suspension comes when the Army has been reporting monthly shortfalls in reaching goals for replenishing the ranks of the all-volunteer military. The Army has missed its target three months in a row. The Marines have been falling short since January.

It also comes as reports of so-called recruiting improprieties have begun to appear around the country, with recruiters, local officials and families questioning how the Army finds its new soldiers. At least one family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and records about his illness that were readily available.

David McSwane, a 17-year-old who lives outside Denver, also recently caught one recruiter on tape, advising him on how to create a fake diploma, and another helping him buy a product that purportedly cleansed his system of illegal-drug residue. This week, a CBS affiliate in Houston, KHOU-TV, played a voice mail message from a local recruiter that threatened a young man with arrest if he did not appear at a nearby recruiting station.

Army statistics show that substantiated cases of improprieties have increased by more than 60 percent, to 320 in 2004 from 199 in 1999. Recruiters and former Army officials say they are related to the extraordinary pressure being put on recruiters, who must meet quotas of roughly two recruits a month. The strain is breeding not just abuses, they said, but also stress-related illnesses, damaged marriages and even thoughts of suicide among some.

One former recruiting official said the stand-down could help refocus the command. But, he said, it will have to be repeated if the Army wants to break the bad habits that have developed in the last two years.

“It’s a good first step, but they have to continually do reinforcement,” said Col. David Slotwinksi, now retired, who was the recruiting command’s chief of staff from 2000 to 2002. “You can’t do it one time and check it off.”

Two recruiters in the New York area, who learned about the stand-down by e-mail last week, said yesterday they were not convinced the content of the training would be meaningful. They said they saw it as a routine day of safety training, with a dose of ethics as an afterthought.

“What it will do is help the new recruiters see that they shouldn’t worship the guys who are making numbers by bending the rules,” said one recruiter, who spoke only on the condition that he not be identified, to protect his military career. “I don’t think it will work with the older recruiters and the career guys.”

Mr. Smith said battalion commanders, who typically oversee 150 to 250 recruiters, can shape the day and determine how much emphasis they wish to put on ethics.

He said that Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, who has been in charge of the recruiting command since 2002, was still working out the details of the day’s sessions and that he would comment on the plan during a conference call this morning.

Some military experts described the move as a welcome and significant break from the Army’s recent approach to other military scandals.

“This contrasts with Abu Ghraib, where they were trying to overlook what was going on,” said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, referring to the lag between news reports about abuse and the Army’s response. “Here they are directly addressing the problem.”

Nonetheless, he said, the pressure to refill the ranks will not subside, and could increase as recruiters follow the rules more closely. “It means the military will have to be more creative in how they do the job of recruiting,” he said.

Representative Steve Israel, a Long Island Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the stand-down meant that the Army considered recruiting abuses serious, and that it was time for Congress to step in. “This isn’t just ruining a kid’s life,” Mr. Israel said. “When you recruit people who can’t perform, it weakens the entire military.”

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