09 June, 2007

Recruiters Under Fire Home Edition

This latest edition of "Recruiters Under Fire" hits close to home - real close. As usual, I'll give you the article and go point by point. You can find the full article here. When you click the link click "cancel" when it tries to print - it's the only way to give you the full article for free. Anyway, here's the story.

Three brothers... all AWOL
After enlisting in the Minnesota Army National
Guard, the Kamunens had second thoughts and didn't return to basic training after Christmas.
By Randy Furst, Star Tribune
Last update: June 03, 2007 – 11:01 PM

CARLTON, MINN. -- Luke Kamunen began to wonder if he'd made a
mistake the moment he arrived for basic training. He was still in the airport at
Fort Jackson, S.C., with other members of his Minnesota National Guard unit,
when an officer reprimanded him publicly for leaving a paper cup on his seat in
the airport.

"I was thinking, is this what it's going to be like the whole
time?" Luke said. "I'm not even on the bus yet."

Shouldn't his mother have reprimanded him publicly for leaving his crap laying around the airport? That's not humiliation - that's just manners and common courtesy.

His twin brother, Leif, started having doubts within weeks when a drill sergeant indicated they were probably headed to Iraq. Leif said that possibility had been downplayed by the recruiter who signed him up in Duluth.

Raise your hand if you're prior service and your recruiter did the same thing when you were at basic...

Just as I thought - all of you are raising your hands. For me it was Yemen when the USS Cole was bombed. (Yep - I'm young!)

What the drill sergeant was doing was starting the process of teaching the young soldiers how to operate under stress. The drill sergeant, not the recruiter, was lying in this instance - nobody is going to go to Iraq straight from Basic Combat Training. The drill sergeant tells the soldiers a little white lie to stress them out and then counsels them on how to deal with it. Pretty standard stuff - it's part of basic training.

For a soldier to deploy to Iraq at the very minimum a soldier must complete Advanced Individual Training (AIT - your job training) before being deployed. Then they would have to go to their home unit, then deploy. Lets not forget to mention that Leif (at this point I must point out the fact this kid's name is Leif - Who in the world names their kid LEIF?!) is National Guard - he belongs to the Active Army for Initial Entry Training only. After completion of training he has to go back to his home unit before deployments - his drill sergeant would know nothing about his unit from Minnesota deploying.

On Jan. 2, the twins, age 21, and their brother Leo, 20, went AWOL from the Army. All three failed to return to basic training after Christmas break in northern Minnesota. Five months later, Luke has been released from the military, while Leif and Leo remain absent without leave. They say they plan to turn themselves in soon.

Soon? They've been AWOL for 6 months! What's the hold up?

The Kamunen brothers are an example of a growing problem -- Army desertions have risen 35 percent in the past two years, according to Defense Department figures. The number rose from 2,450 in 2004 to 3,301 in 2006.

There are many more who go AWOL -- tens of thousands who leave without permission for anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days.

Lets not forget that there are more people in the Army (Active, Reserve, and National Guard) than a few years ago.

Moving on....

"In any large group of military, you are always going to have some people change their minds," said Dennis Schulstad, a retired Air Force brigadier general and a former Minneapolis City Council member. Soldiers who desert are only a fraction of the 2.5 million in the military.

Good point General.

But Ronald Krebs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, blames the sharp rise on the "unfathomable pressure" that recruiters are now under. He says that forces them to lower standards and recruit people who might be less stable.

"Lower-quality recruits desert at much higher rates than higher-quality recruits," said Krebs, author of "Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship," published last year by Cornell University Press.

Here we go - the old "lowering standards" issue. Please refer to my original "Recruiters Under Fire" Post, SFC B's posts here and here, and this Heritage Foundation Report to cover this issue.

Bottom line - the standards are NOT being lowered. But I would imagine that lower-quality recruits do in fact desert at a higher rate than higher-quality recruits.

There are a couple of things I would like to say about Mr. Krebs' statements. First, recruiters do NOT set the standards for enlistment. Congress actually does that. Second, recruiters are NOT moral compasses. Their jobs are to determine qualifications and process qualified individuals. Pressure or no pressure we don't decide if somebody is going to be a "good" recruit or not.

The Kamunens are typical of young recruits who go AWOL, said Sam Diener of the GI Rights Hotline, a national organization that counsels soldiers. "The recruits are disproportionately rural, mostly high school graduates who aren't sure what to do next," he said.

Sam Diener is wrong on this one - please see the Heritage Foundation report I mentioned earlier.

Still, the Kamunens' situation is unusual, simply because there are three of them. "I've talked to thousands and thousands of AWOLs," said the GI Hotline's Bill Galvin. "And I don't think I've ever heard of two brothers going AWOL at the same time."

I don't think I've ever heard of it either. You know what else the press never mentions? The THOUSANDS of brothers who have served and continue to serve HONORABLY.

A subdued reaction up north

The brothers' decision to walk away has made barely a ripple in this northern Minnesota county.

Does this mean that nobody cares?

"I hadn't heard of it," said Robert Langenbrunner, commander of the Cloquet American Legion post. Recruits pledge to serve their country, he said. "I'm dead set against" anyone going AWOL "unless there's something traumatic, like a death in the family."

Bruce Ahlgren, mayor of Cloquet, noted that a couple of years ago, three soldiers from the area died in Iraq. "It hit our area very hard," he said. "I think young kids have a tough situation when it comes to war."

Wouldn't those soldier's deaths be reason for kids not to join instead of go AWOL?

Ahlgren doesn't know the Kamunens. "They signed up for a reason, and for whatever reason they changed their minds and will have to suffer the consequences," he said. "But I am certainly not going to condemn them for it."

Carlton County's jobless rate is more than 6 percent. "It's really hard to find a job that's going to pay what you're worth," Luke said. "You either work for McDonald's or as a janitor."

So apparently Luke at least saw the Guard as a better opportunity.

Their father, Leo, suggested Luke join the Guard because he believed the military would help him pay for college. "It sounded really good," Leo said. "I encouraged him as much as I could."

I like Leo Sr., he seems like a smart man. Apparently the kids thought their dad had some good advice...

In March 2006, Luke walked into the National Guard recruiting office in Duluth. The recruiter, Sgt. Chris Beron, told him about a $20,000 signing bonus and, according to Luke, said that deployment was unlikely.

"He told me that it's really a rare occurrence that I was going to war," Luke said. And if he did go to Iraq, "he told me I would be sitting in the barracks somewhere fixing a vehicle."

Of all my friends in Iraq, including my brother, everybody has told me that 63Bs (the MOS Luke enlisted in) don't go on patrols or raids or anything like that.

SFC Chris Beron is a good friend of mine, I know him well as I've worked with him for over 4 years. This man is no lier. This man is no crook. This man is one of the most honest recruiters I've ever known.

Beron denies that. "I tell them that we are in a war, you are in a branch of the military. ... I tell them that in 13 years, I have never been deployed ... anywhere. I spend a lot of time telling them there is a possibility, but I can't guarantee it one way or the other."

Having seen Chris do many interviews over the years I will tell you that his statements are EXACTLY what he tells his applicants. He doesn't downplay the possibility of deployments. Nor does he lie. It is true that he has not deployed in 13 years. And it is also true that nobody can guarantee somebody that they won't deploy or that they WILL deploy. I have enlisted prior service guys who want to deploy right away and are still drilling 1 weekend a month 3 years later never having deployed.

Leif was next to sign up. He had done telemarketing, worked construction, stocked grocery shelves and washed dishes. "I didn't know what direction I wanted to go," he said.

Beron "was telling us all the benefits and what we would be doing," Leif said. "He made it seem too good to be true. All the money, we would be together through our career. He said there was always a chance [of Iraq], but he kind of minimized it."

I guess I'm confused about how saying "you might deploy, you might not deploy" comes off as "minimizing" the chances.

Also, how can explaining the benefits of the Guard make it seem too good to be true? All the benefits are right there on paper!

Over the summer, younger brother Leo signed up too. "I was sick of this town," he said.

The recollections of the brothers and Beron diverge on another issue. Luke said Beron told them not to disclose any medical problems or juvenile records that might bar them from enlistment. Beron denies it.

Luke said Beron told him to conceal his scar from surgery to insert a rod in an ankle and even sent someone to Wal-Mart to buy a fake tattoo to cover it. Beron denies that vehemently. "I knew nothing about this," he said.

Here we go, recruiters telling kids to lie....

As I said, I know SFC Beron personally, I consider him a friend of mine. I don't believe for a second that Chris told these kids to lie about medical problems or juvenile records.

After reading this article, I decided to do a little "investigative reporting" of my own. Turns out that the 3 brothers went to the Active Army prior to walking into SFC Beron's office. The boys talked to the active duty recruiter and Luke did tell them about the rod in his ankle. The active duty recruiter told me that he told Luke that he would be ineligible for enlistment because it. He said he told Luke something like, "If I bring you to MEPS and they know about the surgery and rod in your ankle, they'll disqualify you for sure." After being disqualified by the Active Army recruiter Luke went on to the National Guard, knowing his ankle would disqualify him - is it not possible, if not probable, that Luke himself concealed the surgery and rod from SFC Beron?

After an investigation by my former command, SFC Beron was found not to have committed any wrong doing.

On the note of concealing juvenile records I have a couple of things to say. The old adage about your juvenile record being "sealed" is not true. If you have EVER been fingerprinted in your life, it will show up. Prior to somebody enlisting recruiters are required to do a police records check in every county the person has lived in. If the person tells us that they have something on their record we have to do a records check with the agency that arrested them and have all supporting documents including a final disposition. When they're at MEPS they have to do a "Pre-Enlistment Interview" where they go through a security interview and then are fingerprinted. Their fingerprints then are run through an FBI database where if they've ever been fingerprinted before, even as a juvenile, it will show up. If something does come up from the FBI check the recruit is processed for discharge under an erroneous enlistment.

I have personally seen the police records check SFC Beron did on the three brothers - none of them had anything but minor things on their records. Nothing came up from the FBI check either.

My opinion as a former recruiter is that the conversations where SFC Beron told them to lie never happened.

Second thoughts

Once at basic training, Luke said he hated the way drill sergeants yelled at recruits. And then he started hearing rumors about deployment to Iraq.

Umm.... it's basic training. Nobody LIKES getting yelled at, but it's something we all have to go through. Was he not expecting this? I'm supposed to believe that nobody told him what happens at BCT? Nobody in his Recruit Sustainment Program explained to him what BCT is like? Hell, we even have a DVD about BCT to give to new recruits! I'm going to choose to not feel sorry for Luke getting yelled at - he's no more special than the rest of us. Besides, he went to Fort Jackson - he can't expect me to believe that he had it "hard" there. Good 'ole "Relaxin' Jackson"...

He thought, "You can't do nothing now. You're in the Army, you're screwed." He also learned that his unit, which was supposed to be fixing Army vehicles, would carry weapons. He was trained to use M-16s and grenade launchers.

Again, was he not expecting to learn how to fire weapons? This is, after all, the Army...

The drill sergeant told them, "Don't think you are not going to war," Luke said.

Well.... that is one of the duties of the Army.... apparently he didn't know this.

Maybe this shouldn't have been a surprise, he conceded. But, "I have been living in a small town, trying to get a job," he said. "I don't know what's going on."

So Luke expects us to believe that since he comes from a small town of about couple thousand people he didn't know what the Army does and that we happen to be at war?

What I find funny about all this is that all three brothers talk earlier in the story about how SFC Beron "minimalized" the prospects of going to war. Obviously Luke knew enough about the war when he was talking to SFC Beron to ask about it - but suddenly he goes to basic training and has never heard of it?

I'm calling "Shenanigans" on the whole "I didn't know nothin' about nothin'" excuse.

Meanwhile, the week before Leif left for Fort Jackson, his girlfriend gave birth to their daughter. "Halfway through basic training, I didn't want to be there anymore," he said.

Understandable, I guess.... but the thousands of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who have left their children behind to fight for our countries overseas probably don't want to leave their children behind either. It's the sacrifices we make for our country Leif - it's not easy but we all gladly do it to protect our children. You know what, I don't feel sorry for Leif either - he's no more special than the rest of us either.

At home over Christmas, Leo started dating a local woman. "I decided there was no way I could be apart from her for long periods of time when I didn't feel so strongly about fighting for George Bush's war," he said.

Man I love puppy love.... in 10 days Leo Jr. meets and falls so madly in love with a woman that he just can't bear the thought of leaving her to go back and finish his training or deploy in "George Bush's war" (more on that later). Guess what Leo, none of us LIKE to leave the ones we love behind when we go off to defend America. But we do it BECAUSE we love them. I don't feel sorry for Leo Jr. either - he too is no more special than the rest of us.

Leo and the reporter just couldn't resist putting in the "George Bush's war" comment in there, could they?

The fact is, that soldiers don't serve for a certain president. I have served under 2 different ones, my brother 3, and some people I know 4. We serve to protect America, to defend freedom, and to protect the Constitution - it doesn't matter who the president is - there will always be a new one just around the corner.... America will always be here.

On Jan. 2, Luke slept in and missed the plane back to his military base. Leif missed the flight, too. So did Leo.

They "slept in" like it was an accident.... "Oops! I missed my plane.. I don't think I'll ever go back!"


"We saw each other a couple days later," Luke said, "and we're saying, 'What, you didn't go back, either?' "

All THREE of them went AWOL and never discussed it with each other?! YEAH RIGHT!

I'm not buying that story for a minute. Those kids sat around the table over Christmas and discussed it. I mean seriously - SFC Beron has enlisted almost 200 people and has NEVER had any of them go AWOL. Then suddenly 3 of his enlistments go AWOL and they just HAPPEN to be brothers! WHAT A COINCIDENCE! They planned it plain and simple.....

The sad thing is that they almost make it sound like going AWOL was an accident.

Months passed, and the brothers began getting calls from military officers, demanding they return. About a month ago, Luke was spotted by a police officer, who told him he had a military warrant for his arrest. He was jailed in Carlton County for a week and then flown to Fort Knox, Ky., where he was given an "other than honorable discharge."

The brothers never got calls from military officers "demanding" they return - those "demands" are called ORDERS....

Luke was never "spotted" by a police officer. It's not like a person goes AWOL and the cops start going door to door looking for him. Luke was actually pulled over for a traffic violation - the cop ran his license and saw he had a federal warrant - the rest is self explanatory.

Luke's "other than honorable discharge" could have been a lot worse... he should consider himself lucky - he should be glad they were so lenient with him.

Leif and Leo remain AWOL. "I realized I made a mistake, and I am sorry about wasting their time and money," Leo said. He wants to move to the Twin Cities and get a job. Leif is looking for work. Luke enrolled last week in Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet. None got their $20,000 bonus; recruits get half after finishing training and half after four years, Beron said.

If Leo was really sorry, he would have gone back to BCT like a man and faced his punishment. The Guard could have provided so many opportunities - now that they're out it seems like Luke is the only one making something of him self.... good for him I guess. It's sad that these guys don't know what they let go.

The repercussions

It is not unusual for the military to be slow about catching AWOL soldiers. Galvin, of the GI Rights Hotline, said the Army has few people tracking them down. After 30 days, officials can get a desertion warrant. He said the military figures that most of them will eventually be picked up during traffic stops, as with Luke. Or the AWOL soldier will get tired of looking over the shoulder and surrender.

If AWOL soldiers are still in training, such as the Kamunens, a common penalty is an "other than honorable discharge." Diener, the counselor for the GI Hotline, said people with that kind of discharge can have a difficult time getting a job with police, government or major corporations.

"For smaller companies, it does not make as much difference," he said.

A lot of people don't realize how these things will affect them for the rest of their lives. I know when I did all the hiring for my local Best Buy I wouldn't hire a person with non-favorable discharges. I wonder if these guys weighed that out before going AWOL?

Department of Defense statistics show that while the number of AWOL Army soldiers climbed by 35 percent over two years, desertions dropped in the Navy, Marines and Air Force. Overall, AWOL numbers were up slightly, from 5,259 in
2004 to 5,361 in 2006.

Schulstad, the retired brigadier general, said it's understandable why the Army's numbers were up. "They are the guys on the ground fighting the war," he said.

Don Olson of Minneapolis is an anti-war activist who has counseled hundreds of soldiers, going back to the Vietnam War. He also counseled Luke Kamunen.

"Luke was recruited on the basis he'd be a mechanic for the Guard in Duluth," said Olson. "He told me he really didn't want to kill people."

I don't know of anybody who WANTS to kill people. Taking the life of another human being is something I've never had to do, nor do I ever WANT to. But if the situation calls for it - I will do what I have to to stay alive and protect my country.....

But Beron is perplexed by the brothers. He said he has recruited nearly 200 people over seven years, and the Kamunens are the first to go AWOL.

"I don't understand it," he said. "The reason the three brothers joined was for the educational benefit. Their goal was to try and do something with their lives."

He said the brothers made it sound as though their lives had pretty much stalled. "I accommodated them. I provided them the opportunity to serve their country."

Staff researcher Roberta Hovde contributed to this article. Randy Furst •
612-673-7382 • rfurst@startribune.com

In the end I must say I am pretty happy with how Randy Furst wrote this article. He did seem to be fairly balenced through out it - aside from my comments about it.

As a former recruiter, I see a lot more in the article than the average person does - I guess it doesn't hurt to know the recruiter very well. What I see is a couple of guys who wanted the benefits, nothing else. They didn't care about the country, they didn't care about freedom. They cared about $20,000 and a free education. The problem is that they didn't expect to have to do anything to get those benefits. Sounds typical of American society doesn't it?

These are 3 guys, the twins 21 and Leo 20, who made an ADULT decision. Things didn't go the way THEY wanted and they quit like scared little boys. Now they don't understand why the adult world is catching up with them.

The thing I dislike most about this article is the fact that it's written so that I'm supposed to feel sorry for them. I'm supposed to feel that they're just 3 dumb kids from some hick town who didn't know what they got themselves into - that the recruiter took advantage of them. The reality is that these were 3 grown adults who made a decision and can't live up to their obligations. I don't feel sorry for them at all. I think their story and excuses are all bullshit. In the end, I guess I'm kind of glad they're not in the Guard - I wouldn't want their kind serving along side me anyway.


QuestRepublic said...

Thanks for your article. I was a recruiter during Vietnam; seems like little has changed!

Flag Gazer said...

This makes my blood boil. I am so sick of spoiled, whiny boys I could scream. We have made our children so soft and irresponsible for their actions and decisions and then we are expected to feel sorry for them when they can't handle their own lives.

Those AWOL figures are SO small in proportion to the size of the military that it almost isn't worth a mention.

OK - I'm ranting, but I would rather see newsprint used to extoll the virtues of all of those great men and women from Minnesota who have been extended in Iraq.

yankeemom said...

I spend a lot of time visiting my recruiters - helps keep my balance here in Moonbat Hollow. I've heard all the evils that recruiters do from the folks around here and I always ask them if they've ever talked to a recruiter. 9 out of 10 say "no, but I read..." *sigh
When my daughter told me she wanted to enlist (she was just starting her senior year in high school), I got online and looked up everything I could find on the Army. I found and printed out the contract she would be signing. I found an article on what Basic Training entailed. I found out about AIT.
When we found out she would be going to Basic at Ft Leonard Wood, I looked at their website and found the schedule for Basic. I talked to her recruiter about deployment. He said she could go over to Iraq or not. He didn't know.
Now if this technically challenged, middle aged women sitting in her kitchen in front of her computer can find out all this info, I have a hard time with people who say they didn't know. But I have also found that people do more research on the options on a new car then on the options for their future.
I got so tired of hearing the "I didn't know" that I created a Parent's Packet of all the info I had found for the recruiters to hand out at their meetings with parents and potential recruits.

Anonymous said...

howdy fellow buzzcutters this is one of the one and only luke kamunen here and everything this know it all recruiter had to say in his little wast of time comments were all fuckin wrong!! For one thing me and my two brothers never cooperated with that reporter! He stopped at our door one day and did the stupid interview. He followed us around like a stupid dog and asked us questions and we gave him quick unrealistic answers! I was there i would know. We were all laughing at this old reporter and gave him bullshit answers! And how would i guess someone guy who knows nothing about the situaton has to blog about it! For one thing I didnt say i did't know that there was a war going and that i didnt know what the army was about! I said i didnt know whats going on. i was being funny and joking around and that old stupid reporter took it serious. And for another thing we didnt care if the drill sergeants yelled at us what we actually said was they they wernt supposed to hit recruits and let me tell you they all did and they all did things they werent suppose to and a couple of them got repremanded for it!! couple got article 15's, u know what that is right smart guy!!?? Get ur facts from a more credible witness next time. Oh yeah sergeant Beron did lie about that shit I CAN PROVE IT!!