Recruiter’s Bag-o-Tricks: Trying to Get an Unqualified Applicant into the U.S. Military

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This year marks the 40th anniversary of the All-Volunteer Force. As someone who was a U.S. Navy minority-officer recruiter in El Paso, Texas (1985-88) and Los Angeles (1988-91), as well as a contracted civilian U.S. Army enlisted recruiter in Houston (2008-09), I know that sometimes the “all-volunteer” has to be, ahem, “forced,” so a recruiter can meet his or her goal for the month.

There are manuals on the right ways to recruit, and regulations detailing improprieties. Recruiters know that the backgrounds of their prospective troops will be scrubbed. Most pretenders will be turned away. But that doesn’t keep recruiters eager to make goal from trying: they’re betting they’ll be out of recruiting – or even the military – before their trickery is discovered.

It isn’t always pretty, believe me. Here’s my Top 10 list of the ways I witnessed — or heard about, and believed happened — to try to get unqualified recruits into the U.S. military:

10. Create a new birth certificate.

Either get a real birth certificate, scan it, erase the name electronically and place the “new” name in place of the old one. Or request a “real” birth certificate for someone who is already dead. Or you can “borrow” a real birth certificate from someone else who is unlikely to enlist.

9. Lie to the doctor about a chronic or disqualifying medical condition at the Military Entrance Processing Station.

Childhood asthma is the usual disqualifier for most people who are not medically qualified. Diabetes is another easily-hidden condition, if it is being kept under control through oral medication, or (temporarily) through insulin injections.

8. Bribe the person running the weigh-in scale at the MEPS.

Works great for overweight applicants if you can get some poorly paid, corrupt medical tech to go along with you.

7. Create a new high-school diploma.

There are many tales of recruiters bribing high-school counselors for blank high-school diplomas, to be filled in when needed by a deserving recruit who failed to graduate.

6. Forge a parent’s signature.

Ideal for someone who wants to enlist, but at under 18 is too young to do so without a parent’s formal OK. (You can enlist at 17 if one of your parents signs for you, but more often than not the parent(s) refuse to sign.)

5. Have a ringer take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB) in place of your prospective recruit.

Taking the test requires a photo ID, but creating a fake driver’s license – or swapping photos on the applicant’s license – are ways around this.

4. Create a college transcript.

You can get a counterfeit one, or buy one at a diploma mill. It makes your applicant eligible for a higher rank upon enlistment.

3. Create a whole new person.

Start with a fresh birth certificate, add a new Social Security card, toss in a new driver’s license, and top off with a new high-school diploma.

2. Provide a false urine sample at the MEPS.

Concerned your drug use might keep you out of uniform? Attach a fake bladder to your belly filled with someones else’s urine, and use a discharge tube to give “your” sample.

1. Steal someone else’s identity.

Just hijack all the relevant data from someone’s who’s never going to enlist.

The old saying — when the cat’s away, the mice will play — still applies. None of these scams could have happened if the next-level supervisors had been doing their jobs and spot-checked the process.

When recruiters are placed under enormous pressure, some of them will do anything to eliminate that pressure — including cutting corners, big time. Ultimately, everyone loses: the applicant, the recruiter and the military.