A story involving an Army recruiter in Texas last week has led to a bipartisan call for an investigation. The recruiter from the Greenspoint Recruiting Station in Houston was suspended after a recording of his threats aired on a local TV station. The recruiter, Sgt. Glenn Marquette, warned eighteen-year-old Irving Gonzalez that he would be sent to jail if he decided to go to college instead of joining the military, even though Gonzalez had signed a non-binding contract that left him free to change his mind before basic training. We play the recording of their conversation, and we speak with two of the teenage Army recruits involved. We also question a spokesman for the US Military Recruiting Command and speak with a Texas Congressman who is calling for an investigation. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As the wars drag on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military is increasingly desperate to get recruits. A story involving an Army recruiter in Texas last week has now led to a bipartisan call for an investigation.
The recruiter from the Greenspoint Recruiting Station in Houston was suspended last week after a recording of his threats aired on a local CBS affiliate, KHOU. The recruiter, Sergeant Glenn Marquette, warned eighteen-year-old Irving Gonzalez that he would be sent to jail if he decided to go to college instead of joining the military, even though Gonzalez had signed a non-binding contract that left him free to change his mind before basic training.
Republican Congress member Ted Poe told the CBS affiliate that “We don’t want the government, military, the Army, deceiving American citizens" and suggested that Congress might have to get involved if the Army did not react to the incident.
Last year, Irving Gonzalez and Eric Martinez signed up for the non-binding delayed enlistment program in high school. But earlier this summer, when seventeen-year-old Eric Martinez told his recruiters he had decided to go to college instead of the military, his mother was told Eric had no choice and could face jail time if he resisted joining. Irving Gonzalez helped get Eric out of enlistment hours before he was to be shipped out of Houston for training. He knew he was next in line. He decided to record his next conversation with his recruiters. This is a part of what Sergeant Marquette told Irving Gonzalez in that recorded conversation.
IRVING GONZALEZ: The main thing is, I want out. I don’t want to be in it. I don’t want to go to the Army.
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: Well, you need to talk to my company commander.
IRVING GONZALEZ: To your company commander?
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: Mm-hmm. You need to come in here, and I need to bring you to my company commander.
IRVING GONZALEZ: But is there a way out? Is there a way for me to get out, because I don’t want to go in there if you are just going to like...
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: No, there is not a way out. You signed a binding contract.
IRVING GONZALEZ: There’s no way out?
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: No. When you sign a contract...
IRVING GONZALEZ: But I’d probably be able to get scholarships.
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: You need a full ride scholarship, full ride, to a state university — UT, AM. Full ride. That means everything is paid for — classes, books, you know, lodging, you know, breakfast, lunch and dinner — all paid for, not no partial scholarship, not no FAA scholarship, not no First Citizen Bank scholarship. No, we’re talking full ride scholarship, because there ain’t no partial scholarship out there that even comes close to what the Army’s giving you for college. It’s forty-plus thousand dollars.
IRVING GONZALEZ: Yeah, I know, but, I mean, it’s kind of like a family thing, too. I’d rather just stay here. What if I just don’t show up?
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: Then, guess what. You’re AWOL, absent without leave, punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 86: Deserter. It’s in your contract. Read it. It’s clear as day. So then, guess what happens.
IRVING GONZALEZ: What’s that?
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: Guess what happens to you, I’ll tell you what happens to you, OK? This is what will happen. You want to go to school? You will not get no loans, because all college loans are federal and government loans. So you’ll be black-marked from that. As soon as you get pulled over for a speeding ticket or anything with the law, they’re gonna see that you’re a deserter. Then they’re going to apprehend you, take you to jail. They’re going to call up the military police, the nearest military installation, and they will come down there, correctional officers, 31-series in the Army, pick you up, detain you, put you on a plane and take you to Fort [inaudible], Missouri, where you will do your time, as you deserve. So guess what. All that lovey-dovey “I want to go to college” and all this? Guess what. You just threw it out the window, because you just screwed your life. There’s a right way to do things, and there’s a wrong way to do things.
IRVING GONZALEZ: OK. Well, I mean, [inaudible] —
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: If you get into basic training and you don’t like it, tell the chaplain you don’t like it. That’s the right way to get out of the Army. Then they’ll process you out of the Army, and they’ll tell you to adapt, and there’s nothing against your record.
IRVING GONZALEZ: That would be the right way to do it?
SGT. GLENN MARQUETTE: Yeah, and you can come back home and do your thing. And then, also, guess what. If you do it that way, if you do it that way, maybe they’ll even want you in the future. You may say, “Well, damn, I’m coming to join the Army this time.” Then, guess what. You can. You can join then, because you got out of the Army the right way. You at least got to go to basic training and try it.
AMY GOODMAN: US Army recruiter Sergeant Glenn Marquette, threatening eighteen-year-old Irving Gonzalez. Gonzalez and Eric Martinez now are joining us from Houston, Texas. We’re also joined in Houston by Democratic Congress member Gene Green, who is calling on the Department of Defense to look into the incident, and by community organizer Maureen Haver. She is the founder of Not Even One, a website to disseminate information and take action against illegal military recruiting practices. Douglas Smith is also on the phone with us. He’s the public affairs officer at the US Military Recruiting Command, joining us on the phone from Louisville, Kentucky.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Irving Gonzalez, I’d like to start with you. You had this conversation with the Army recruiter. Explain how this all came about, beginning actually with Eric being threatened.
IRVING GONZALEZ: Well, it started around a year before — a year ago. I was still seventeen, and when I got in, Eric was already thinking about it before I was. But, you know, right after I got in, like two weeks later, he decided to go ahead and join the DEP program, too. And from there, that’s how it started. And, I mean, we didn’t think it was going to get this far, but they started — for a while, whenever we were thinking upon not joining, they started calling us and telling us that we didn’t have a choice, you know, that we could say all we want, we don’t have a choice to go or not, if we want to or not.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric, if you could explain how far this went — first of all, when —- how did you meet the military recruiter? Talk about what you understood, what you signed, and how, eventually, you end up basically escaping from a hotel.
ERIC MARTINEZ: Well, I met her at Irving’s house, because the day he went to go enlist for the DEP, I was at his house. And I talked to her and told her I was interested in the military. And then, she says, like, “Well, what branch?” And I wasn’t too sure yet. And she talked to me about it. And I was like, “OK, well, let me get back to you on that.” And it took me about two weeks before I decided to actually join the DEP. And -—
AMY GOODMAN: DEP means delayed enlistment program?
ERIC MARTINEZ: Yes. And from what I understood, is that it’s just there so you can save a spot, so, you know, you can have the job you want as soon as you get there and so you won’t have a problem with it later on. And then, as things went further, I decided not to go. And when I told her that, she said I had no choice and that I had to go. So I believed her, and I went to the hotel. They took me to the hotel. And that’s whenever Irving’s little brother contacted me. And then I told him I was leaving —-
AMY GOODMAN: The hotel was preparing to leave?
ERIC MARTINEZ: Well, they keep you at the hotel until the morning. And from the -— in the morning, you go down to the office, and you do a few more tests. And then you — from there, you leave to the fort you’re supposed to go to.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they approach your family, like your mother?
ERIC MARTINEZ: Well, yeah. Whenever I didn’t want to go, my mom’s like, “OK, well, then just go stay at your sister’s house, and we’ll tell them you left to San Antonio.” And I was like, OK. We did that. And my shipment date came, and my recruiter went to my house, and my mom says, like, “Well, he left to San Antonio.” And he’s all, like, well — she’s all, like, “Well, you’ve got to tell us where. Give us an address, so we can go pick him up.” And my mom’s like, “Well, he don’t want to go. What don’t you understand about that?” And then she told her that I signed a binding contract and that I had to go. So, my mom was like, “Well, let’s go talk to your boss. I’ll meet you down at your office.”
So my mom went, and she talked to Sergeant Marquette and told him that I didn’t want to go, and that’s it. And Marquette said that I had to go, and if I didn’t, that I’d have a warrant for my arrest and I wouldn’t be able to get no government loans or nothing like that. So, my mom doesn’t really know anything about it, so she believed it, and she told me. And I believed it, too, because I didn’t know much about it either. So they extended my time until that Friday. And then, Thursday, they went to get me, so I can go to the hotel.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we’ll find out what happened at the hotel and find out about Irving’s brother, who called you, and then what Irving did about this, Irving Gonzalez, himself recruited. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. We’ll also speak with a counter-recruiting activist whose husband served in Iraq, and we’ll talk to a US Congress member who’s calling for an investigation, as well as a US Army Recruiting Command spokesperson, who will join us from Kentucky. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are joining us in Houston, Texas: Irving Gonzalez and Eric Martinez. Irving is eighteen; Eric, seventeen. They were both recruited. We’re going to go to finish their story, then talk with the other guests from Texas and Kentucky.
Irving Gonzalez, once Eric went to the hotel, how did your little brother get involved?
IRVING GONZALEZ: Well, I talked to Eric on the Wednesday before, before anything happened, and I told him that he wasn’t going to have to go, but I didn’t keep in contact with him that morning or that afternoon. And around nighttime, like around 10:00 or 11:00, I told my brother, “Call Eric. See what he’s doing.” And when he called him, Eric just seemed like really low-pitch voice. He didn’t say — it took him a while until he finally told us that he was already at the hotel, and he didn’t want to tell nobody bye, because he was just going to get sad. So, we’re like, “You’re at the hotel?” And we’re like, “You don’ have to go. I don’t know why you think you need to go. You don’t need to go.” And Eric was like, “No, I need to go, and you’re going to need to go, too. They’re going to go get you, too. This isn’t a game. You can’t play with them.” And I was like, “Well, just hold on. I’ll call you back.”
And that’s when I decided to call Maureen and Dwight, and I told them about the situation. And they started helping us by contacting anti-recruiters from Washington and people that know more information about it to talk to Eric, because he was kind of like in a state of not knowing who to trust. And we put him on three-way, and we talked to him. And finally, we were able to get everything straight, you know, where it will be good, and we should go get him and stuff.
So, Eric was like, “OK, come pick me up.” But Eric didn’t know where he was at. They just dropped him off at a — he just knew he was at a hotel. He looks out the window. He said all he saw was an Olive Garden. So, I mean, that’s the only thing we knew where to look for him at. And he finally called downstairs, the main office, and they told him the address. And it was like an hour away from our house, to an area I had never been to in Houston. But finally, we went down there.
And when we went down there, we saw that there was security going around the hotel, plus there was maybe like ten recruiters in the main office downstairs. And he was in the second floor, because when we got there, he was already on the balcony looking at us. It took us a while thinking about how we were going to get him out, because I was actually thinking of just walking in, just walking in and seeing what would happen. But it was just too many recruiters. I was like, no, we’re going to have to find another way, because they’re going to ask me questions. And it took us a while, and, I mean, the elevator didn’t want to go down. They had it programmed to where, like, if you were on the second floor, you couldn’t go down unless someone came up to get you. And he was actually thinking about jumping out the window. He actually climbed down to the first floor, and he was going to jump from there, but there was two beams sticking up, and it was just not going to be safe. That was like the last resort or something.
And my friend Junior, he was with us. It was me, my brother Ivan and Junior, and we were in the car. And he just decided to say, “Well, what about if I just walk in and try to get him out?” And he put on his iPod, and he walked in. And they were trying to catch his attention. They were screaming, screaming, trying to see who we was, like, “Eh, come here!” And he just kept walking, and he walked straight into the elevator, and when he got to the second floor, he held the door open so Eric could go in. And Eric was hiding on the second floor, because there was recruiters and security walking around the second floor also. So, when he got in the elevator, they went down, and they went out through the back exit, where we met them at.
And that’s when we’re like, “OK, he’s out. Let’s go home.” But we were completely lost. It took us a while to get home. But he was like an hour away, maybe less than an hour, from them actually taking him to the office to get everything taken care of. It was like 3:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning, to where we actually got everything done and got him out of there.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Martinez, were you scared?
ERIC MARTINEZ: Yeah, because they put you in a place where you’re doing something you don’t want to, and you just start thinking about everything that’s over there and everything you hear on the news. So, yeah, I was scared.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you change your mind?
ERIC MARTINEZ: It’s just mostly like, what I want to do, I know that I don’t have to go to the Army to do it. And I don’t know. It’s just the stuff on the news, and I have people that we know that have been there, people who, like — people we know that have relatives or people that have gone there that just come back really messed up, either physically or emotionally.
AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go to Democratic Congress member Gene Green. You represent Houston in the US Congress. What Irving and Eric are describing, it sounds like they’re escaping from kidnappers. But this is the US military. What is the legality of this? Eric is seventeen years old. He is a kid. He’s a minor.
REP. GENE GREEN: Well, you know, this is not something that, as a member of Congress, I want to hear about, because it’s not something that should be done. I represent the area where these young men went to high school. My children went to that high school, and my wife taught there for many years. Texas and Harris County has a great recruitment record.
I would hope we could recruit these young men and women without having to play games on them, keep them in some type of solitary confinement while we’re waiting to ship them off to somewhere. You know, the non-binding contract is a bottom line. If they signed with the ability to change their mind later on, that should be the bottom line, not that they play games with them. And that’s not what the military or the US government should be proud of doing.
And this is the second time something like this has happened at that particular recruiting station. And I have an office right close to that station. And I’d like the Department of Defense to say, “Wait a minute. Let’s do recruiting honestly.” Hopefully this is not happening in other parts of the country. But if it isn’t, then why is it happening at this one location?
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Douglas Smith in, public affairs officer for the US Army Recruiting Command, talking to us from Louisville, Kentucky. As you listen to this description by these two young men and what happened to Eric being brought to this hotel and the conversation, the recorded conversation, with the recruiter threatening Irving, saying he’ll go to jail if he doesn’t go into the military, what are your thoughts?
DOUGLAS SMITH: Well, I can’t comment specifically on their —- what they’ve said, because the Army Recruiting Command is investigating their allegations against the recruiter. The recruiter has been removed from the recruiting station, pending the investigation.
All I can tell you is that we do have procedures in place for future soldiers who want to be released from their contract. The procedures are going to involve them having to speak to their recruiter, explain their reasons for wanting to be released from the contract. At that point, the recruiter is probably going to try his or her best to remind them of all the good reasons that they chose to enlist in the Army, but ultimately, the recruiter is expected to provide them information on what the procedures are to request in writing to be released from the contract, followed up by an interview with the recruiting company commander and, ultimately, approval of their request by the lieutenant colonel who would be the commanding officer of the recruiting battalion that the station and the company belong to.
AMY GOODMAN: Maureen Haver, you’re founder of Not Even One, notevenone.org. Your husband served in Iraq. He was involved in freeing Eric from the hotel. Can you talk about these practices in Texas, as you understand them?
MAUREEN HAVER: Sure, and I want to make a clarification. Earlier, I was referred to as a counter-recruitment activist, and it’s really a matter of truth in recruitment. If you want to join the military, that is your right and prerogative. In the same manner, if you don’t want to join the military, it is also your right and prerogative not to join the military.
And what’s happening is, with the delayed enlistment program contract, it doesn’t clearly explain to the young men and women who sign up for the DEP contract what their actual rights are, in terms of requesting separation. It doesn’t explain that at all. And Ted Poe actually indicated in his interview with CBS that the DEP contract needs to be rewritten. What we’re specifically looking -—
AMY GOODMAN: I want to explain that Ted Poe is a Republican congressman from Texas.
MAUREEN HAVER: Yes. And this is really a bipartisan issue, because this is about: are we going to be lying to teenage kids about joining the military? This should be a concern by everybody.
But going back to your question that’s specifically looking at the situation in Houston and in Texas, Congressman Green referenced that this has happened before at this recruitment station. It happened in 2005, where a recruiter made a threat that was caught on voicemail, where he told a young man that if he didn’t show up for an appointment, he was going to issue a federal warrant.
The Army issued a national stand-down of recruitment offices and promised that this was going to be fixed. And what CBS uncovered months after the initial story broke in 2005 was that Sergeant Kelt, the recruiter in question who had caused the national stand-down, was actually promoted as supervisor at another office. This, to me, indicates that behavior like this is being rewarded.
There is also evidence from a 2006 GAO study that shows that allegations of abuse have increased from 4,400 cases to 6,500 cases, and that’s what the latest information that we have from the GAO, and this is nationwide. So, we’re looking at a systemic problem that’s taking place. It’s unusual that we’ve had two national stories coming out of Greenspoint Recruitment Station, but I think the evidence in the GAO study in 2006 indicates that this is a widespread problem that’s taking place throughout the country.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to that recruiter you just mentioned. This is from three years ago, from the same recruiting station in Houston, as you said, the Greenspoint Recruiting Station. This is the message that Sergeant Kelt, Thomas Kelt, left for a high school student in 2005.
SGT. THOMAS KELT: Hey, Chris. This is Sergeant Kelt with the Army, man. I think we got disconnected. OK, I know you were on your cell probably and just had bad reception — connection or something like that. I know you didn’t hang up on me. Anyway, by federal law, you got an appointment with me at 2:00 this afternoon at Greenspoint Mall, OK? That’s the Greenspoint Mall Army Recruiting Station at 2:00. Fail to appear, and we’ll have a warrant, OK? So give me a call back.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Sergeant Kelt. Douglas Smith, you’re spokesperson for the US Army Recruiting Command in Kentucky. He said they are going to have a warrant out for his arrest if he doesn’t show up. Is that improper?
DOUGLAS SMITH: Yes, it is. Our regulations are quite clear that recruiters are not to coerce or threaten applicants or future soldiers in any way.
AMY GOODMAN: The military removed him, but it turns out he was just moved to another recruiting station, and he was actually promoted. Is that the policy of the military?
DOUGLAS SMITH: Well, I’m hampered by privacy restrictions. All I can tell you is that an administrative action was taken against Sergeant Kelt, and that administration — that administrative action was a negative action. However, the finding was that he had an otherwise stellar career as a soldier and as a recruiter, and he was given additional responsibilities as a recruiting station commander, which he continues to do so today. Just because someone has done something wrong doesn’t mean that they get the death penalty.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there’s a difference between the death penalty and a promotion. He was actually promoted after this and came to be the commander of another recruiting station.
DOUGLAS SMITH: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What was the negative penalty, if he was promoted?
DOUGLAS SMITH: I’m not allowed to tell you. I’m sorry. That’s covered under Army regulations and Department of Defense regulations, so I cannot discuss administrative actions taken against a recruiter.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Gene Green, your thoughts?
REP. GENE GREEN: Well, that’s why we need the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives to do an investigation. The GAO study pointed this out two years ago, and it seems like there’s a — there is a problem within the Department of Defense.
The American people and Congress, many years ago, went to an all-volunteer army. That’s what we’re having. And we need to make it work, instead of the subterfuge and the playing games in trying to get young men and women to join. We want them to join. Like I said, Texas and Harris County has a great recruitment record, Texas, particularly, compared to other states, of folks serving in our military. But I want them to be willing to go and willing to serve.
There are a great many benefits, education-wise, for folks who serve in the military. And Congress just enacted a new GI Bill to do that. But we need to sell the positive side, and these games that are being played, one, puts a black eye on the military, and I would hope that we don’t have a whole lot of our young men and women who are serving who were actually tricked into serving. We don’t have a draft. We don’t play games. If you want to go, you can go, and here are the benefits, and here is your responsibility. Don’t put them in a hotel and guard them. Don’t threaten to put them — that you’re going to send a warrant out. I don’t know if a sergeant has the authority to issue a warrant. Frankly, members of Congress can’t issue a warrant for someone. So, you know, this is a hard sell that —- at the very least, and it shouldn’t be allowed.
MAUREEN HAVER: And, Amy, the GAO study -—
AMY GOODMAN: I want to — Maureen Haver, again, founder of notevenone.org?
MAUREEN HAVER: The GAO study that we’re referencing in 2006 is the latest study that’s been made available. And even within that study, they cited a Department of Defense internal survey of recruiters that stated that 20 percent of active recruiters felt that recruiter irregularities happen frequently. And irregularities are defined as willful acts of omission and improprieties. So when we have even active — 20 percent of active recruiters are saying that this is happening frequently, we need a response. And I think it’s clear that the Department of Defense is not responding to these issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Douglas Smith, your response to what Maureen Haver is saying? And also, the pressure the military is facing right now, with fewer people wanting to go and the quotas that these recruiters have to meet every month?
DOUGLAS SMITH: Well, first of all, I’d like to remind everyone that I’m a spokesperson for US Army Recruiting Command and not the other services.
We have more than 8,300 Army recruiters across the country who are working day in and day out within the regulations that we expect them to work and living up to their Army values. We take it very seriously, all of us, when even one recruiter is accused of doing something improper. We investigate and take appropriate actions, as necessary. We don’t take this lightly. We do have annual training. Recruiters get annual training on the ethics of recruiting each year. That follows up on the training they get when they go to the recruiting and retention school, and it builds upon training that they received throughout the year at their company level. We’ve made it quite clear that we take these things seriously, and we investigate when we learn of a problem, which is what we’re doing right now in Houston.
MAUREEN HAVER: An Army investigator contacted Irving —-
AMY GOODMAN: Maureen Haver.
MAUREEN HAVER: —- contacted Irving once. And Irving was unable to meet with the Army investigator. The Army investigator said that he would come back the next day to talk to Irving. I don’t think, Irving, that you’ve heard from the Army investigator since then, have you?
IRVING GONZALEZ: No, I haven’t heard from them. That was the only time.
MAUREEN HAVER: And I don’t believe Eric has been contacted at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’d like to —-
REP. GENE GREEN: Let me -— let me say —
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Congressman Green.
REP. GENE GREEN: Well, what I’d like to say is it sounds like it’s not an isolated incident, whether it was in ’05 or this year, and if you have some type of semi-prison system where you’re keeping people in hotels, that sounds like it’s more systemic, it’s a problem with the system, instead of just with individual recruiters.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to continue this conversation. We’re going to play another clip of a conversation that Irving Gonzalez had with the person who first recruited him and find out about the increasing number of incidents reported of recruiter irregularities and the question of illegality and investigation. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
The person who actually recruited Irving Gonzalez and Eric Martinez was Corporal Lisette Diaz. I want to play an excerpt of her conversation with Irving Gonzalez when he told her that he changed his mind about joining. This is a Democracy Now! exclusive.
CPL. LISETTE DIAZ:
Have you talked to Eric?
No, but his mom told me.
CPL. LISETTE DIAZ:
Yeah, he needs — you know, you don’t want whatever is going to happen to him to happen to you.
What’s going to happen?
CPL. LISETTE DIAZ:
You know, I don’t know. I mean whatever. If he ever gets pulled over or whatever [inaudible], you never know what can happen.
I think I can do better with my life out here than in there.
CPL. LISETTE DIAZ:
You think so? The way the economy is going right now?
I’d rather struggle and be free.
CPL. LISETTE DIAZ:
I have your best interest — what’s that?
I think I’d rather struggle.
CPL. LISETTE DIAZ:
You’d rather struggle?
CPL. LISETTE DIAZ:
Are you serious? Think about what you’re saying. The way the economy is going right now and the way it’s going to go for the next couple of years, it’s not looking good. Sometimes you have to grow up and learn how to be a man and to take care of stuff on your own. You know what I’m saying? Do you want to sit there and live with your mom for the next three, four, five, six years or whatever? You know, you want to do something different now to what your friends are doing, because when you come back and you see what your friends are doing, still living at home with mom and dad, struggling, trying to make a job, make money, make a living, you’re going to be like, bam, I’m glad I didn’t. You know what I’m saying? I’m telling you from experience, because I see that.
So now, now you got about a month left before you leave. You got a little less than a month. And if you go to basic training and you still don’t like it, it’s easier getting out of it once you’re in basic training. All you got to do is go to talk to the chaplain and say, “I don’t want this. I want to go home.” And they’ll just send you home. They don’t have time. They got soldiers to train.
That was the recruiter, Lisette Diaz, attempting to recruit Irving Gonzalez.
Douglas Smith, public affairs officer for the US Army Recruiting Command, I wanted to ask you, is it true? Is it true what she says, that it’s easier to leave after basic training than not to go at all?
No, leaving from basic training is more difficult than asking for release from the Future Soldier Training Program.
So, is the recruiter, Lisette Diaz, lying to Irving?
I can’t comment on that recording. The matter is under investigation.
Irving Gonzalez, when you heard this, what did you decide to do? What gave you the strength to think that you wouldn’t be punished if you didn’t go?
Well, Dwight and Maureen, they were helping me a lot with the information, you know, telling me that if — helping me find more information, because I wasn’t even — I was taking their word, too, but I was looking it on the internet, you know, people that this has happened to and stuff. And whenever I had my conversation with Diaz, it was another conversation that I had with her, I told her, “Is there anything I could do? You know, can you help me not go?” And she’s like, “No, you need to go. There’s nothing you can do. You’re going to need to go.”
And at that point, I was like, I’m just a number to her, you know. If she don’t care about me going, why should I, you know, care about her meeting her quota or anything like that? So I started feeling that it wasn’t as — I wasn’t as — it wasn’t as important, me going, as they were making it seem. I mean, they just wanted just that one more person, because even when I talked to — whenever we did the recording for Glenn Marquette, I told him my name, but it didn’t seem like he was actually interested in my name. He was just seeing that I was a future soldier and that I was thinking of not going. So it felt like he was kind of — he was basically like reading it off of a script, what he was saying, because he didn’t even care what my name was, he just knew I was a future soldier.
Douglas Smith, public affairs officer for the US Army Recruiting Command in Kentucky, you said that the military, the Army, is dealing with this. But it turns out — and I’m looking at the CBS figures — instead of going down, allegations of wrongdoing are going up year after year: in 2005, 836 complaints filed against recruiters; that rose to 874 last year. The Army is on pace to surpass that figure in 2008. What’s more, the number of Army recruiters given formal admonishments has nearly doubled since the first report of three years ago of CBS, with 373 citations going up to 635. Are things getting worse because recruiters are getting more desperate to meet these quotas?
No, things are not getting worse based on recruiters needing to make quotas. We have achieved our national recruiting goals every year — 2006 and 2007 — and we’re on track to achieve our goals again this year in fiscal year 2008.
Then why are things getting worse? Why are these incidents going up and up? And, of course, these are only the ones that get reported. We didn’t talk today about the numerous allegations of sexual abuse. AP did some stunning work on that, an exposé that we did another show on.
Well, allegations of recruiters are lower than in previous years. It is true in stating that they were up from fiscal year ’05 through fiscal year ’07. The number of recruiters who were found to have committed an impropriety, that is, doing something that they shouldn’t, has been relatively stable over the past few years. The number of recruiters being admonished is a sign of the fact that we’re taking this very seriously. An admonishment is a negative action taken against a recruiter, whether or not we found that the allegation was substantiated. We admonish recruiters even when we can find no proof that they did something wrong, if we see that they may have skirted the regulation, they may have made a mistake, etc.
I think the problem with the public hearing that, when you say it’s encouraging to hear that the admonishments have gone up, is that Sergeant Kelt was admonished, and he was promoted. We don’t know what the admonishment was; we just know he’s been made commander of a recruiting center.
Well, I don’t know of any organization where an admonishment, depending on what the finding was, would necessarily result in the person being fired from their job.
Not necessarily fired, but —
The level of admonishment must meet the level of admonishment, but —
Right, but not fired, not fired, but promoted.
Maureen Haver, you have a question for Douglas Smith.
Well, I don’t know of too many other organizations that are recruiting teenagers to go and fight in a war. And this also represents a liability to the troops that are over there. If you have an apathetic soldier or an unwilling soldier, that’s a liability to the entire operation over there in Iraq. So we’re dealing with what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, what’s happening to the veterans afterward.
And his comment that it’s going — that the numbers are looking good, and that’s good that’s being admonished, again, we’re going back to the GAO study that found that the data that they examined likely underestimates the true number of recruiter irregularities. And they further found that the Department of Defense has no oversight framework that requires branches of the military to maintain and report on recruiter abuses, nor is there a common criteria for categorizing abuses or establishing shared terminology. So abuses can be terminized as “recruiter error” in the Army or “malpractice” in the Navy, making it difficult to both assign responsibility for and to quantify abuse.
Representative Green made the comment earlier that we have an all-volunteer force. This instance and all the other instances that we’re seeing throughout the country call into question that very basic assumption. We don’t know how many have listened to what the recruiter said who requested separation from the delayed enlistment program and are serving now in Iraq, have died in Iraq or are injured or emotionally scarred. And it’s not acceptable for this to happen to one person.
And I don’t see any clear oversight framework that shows that the Department of Defense is dealing with this or that the individual military branches are dealing with this, because everything is being kept secret. There’s no transparency. And that’s why we need Congress to get involved, because this also links to taxpayer dollars, and one of the powers invested in Congress, and responsibility, is to maintain the military.
The ACLU came out with a report in May. It says that the United States has failed to uphold its commitments to safeguard the rights of youth under eighteen from military recruitment. And the report goes on to say the military regularly targets youths under eighteen for recruitment and disproportionately targets poor and minority students. Maureen Haver, in Houston, with the work that you’ve been doing, who is being targeted? Where are the recruiters? And I do want to ask both you and Douglas Smith how you feel about videotapes in the recruiting stations of all stations?
Well, in Houston, Aldine High School, for example, is in the northern part of Houston, and 70 percent of the students who attend Aldine High School are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch. 71 percent of the student population is Hispanic, so if we’re looking at the ACLU study that you just referenced, Aldine High School seems to fit that profile.
Another reason why Congress needs to get involved is this also links to the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed in 2001 and which will withhold federal funding from school districts who don’t allow military recruiters access. And at one point , Irving mentioned that the recruiters, after he told him — told them that he did not want to go, they came into his classroom and harassed them. In his classroom. This is a clear violation of students’ rights to privacy, right to be left alone, and it has to stop.
Wait. Explain that last point. They came into the classroom?
Irving, why don’t —- if -—
Irving Gonzalez, what class were you in, and who came in?
They were already waiting for me in class. It was theater — I think it was theater arts. And they were already in the class, and I was going into the class, and as soon as I walked in, I was like, oh, they’re going to mess with me. So I was kind of like, let me just sit down and, you know, mind my business, hopefully they don’t talk to me. So I started talking to my friend, and we were both talking. And they were like on the other side of the room. And in the classroom, the chairs are in a line, like right next to each other; they go around the class like a circle.
So, whenever she was like, “Private Gonzalez,” and I looked at her, everybody was just like shocked. And they looked at me, and then they looked back at her. And she like —- she gave me a signal, like to go over there towards her, you know, that she wanted to talk to me. And I didn’t get up. And when I didn’t get up, they like came to my chair, and they got in my face, and they’re like, “Can I see you outside?” And at this point, everybody in the classroom is kind of like shocked, like “What’s going on? You know, why are they doing this?” And I was like, “No, I’m in class. I’m not going to leave my class.” So they asked my teacher, “Can I talk to Irving outside privately?” And they’re like, “Oh, yeah, you can take him outside.”
So they took me outside. And outside, she was just like, “Why don’t you want to go?” And, “No, you need to go” and all this. And I was like, “Well, no, I’m not going to go. You know, I feel that I can do better here.” And she’s like, “No, no, you can’t. College is hard.” And she was just trying to relate to me, but at the same time trying to scare me into saying -—
In class. Congressman Gene Green, does this sound irregular to you, that Irving Gonzalez is in his high school class, and he is being recruited in the classroom?
REP. GENE GREEN:
Well, for one thing, you know, in Texas, we have laws that when you’re in a given class, whether it’s theater art or science or math, you’re supposed to be in that class. There are exceptions. And I know the federal law encourages, as much as it can, recruiters having access to schools, but there is also a level of that. Sure, I want them to recruit in high school to give young people the opportunity, but I also don’t want them to go to take them out of class and harass them to the point, or saying, you know, you have to go, when you signed a non-binding contract. If that contract is non-binding, that’s what it means. And you really shouldn’t be taken out of your class, whether it’s theater arts or any other class, to do that. They ought to visit him, if they have to, at home, or get him to come in a recruiting session.
But again, if you’re unwilling to go, there’s only a certain level of encouragement that you should have to go through from the recruiter, and that’s where we need to find out where is this happening in the chain of command. If it’s not just at — thank goodness it’s not just at the Greenspoint station, because that’s in our district. But I want to know, why is that happening.
Douglas Smith, does this sound irregular to you, that the recruiters are in the classroom, calling the students out?
Well, what the recruiters do in the school is subject to the regulations and guidelines that the schools establish. We want to be good guests in the high schools. But that varies from location to location. All I can tell you is that we expect our recruiters to abide by the regulations established by the schools they’re working with.
I want to end with our two student guests, high school students who have said no to the military. Eric Martinez, what are your plans now, and what do you have to say to other young people? Do you know other young people in your situation?
Well, I already had a few friends that — they signed up for the DEP, and they already left, but that’s because they wanted to. And all I really have to say to some other people is just, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Just stay informed about what you can do and what are the ways of getting out.
Well, in my school, I feel that there’s more than just the recruiters asking for kids’ information, but they’re harassing them in lunch and their classes and putting them on the spots in the hallways, just trying to find a way to get to them and for them to actually start talking to them more. And a lot of families around my area, around the Aldine area, they’re not informed about this. A lot of parents don’t know about this information. So they’re kind of lost in the whole procedure of the military. And we want to inform as many people as we can, that if you want to go, OK, that’s all good, but if you decide that there might be something else you could do, that there is something else and there is that opportunity for you to get out.
I want to thank you all for being with us, Irving Gonzalez and Eric Martinez from Aldine High School; Maureen Haver, founder of notevenone.org; Democratic Congress member Gene Green, who’s calling for an investigation into recruiting practices; and Douglas Smith, public affairs officer for the US Army Recruiting Command in Louisville, Kentucky.