Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Case in Point

This morning I checked my Gmail account and saw that someone had sent me a link to a story out of Tennessee where some recruiters were caught on tape saying stupid things.

The usual caveats apply. These were appointments conducted and there was a lot more said during the coversations that just the snippets we see excerpted for shock value. However the simple fact is that, as a recruiter, you shouldn't be saying the things these recruiters were saying. As soon as I saw the title of the story on the TV station's web page I knew that Rules #2 and #6 had been broken.

In my original "Advice" column I suggested that the recruiter with the "Wango Tango" email should have just shut-up at "You're unqualified." This should apply equally to someone DQ'd for med. The kid tells you "You know, I'm currently on Zoloft," the chances of something going horribly wrong for you have increased greatly. If an otherwise fully qualified applicant walks in to the station and coughs up a medical issue, and it's an issue that is going to keep them disqualified, suck it up and not process the kid. He's not going to be qualified. If he's taking the meds it's for a reason. That seemingly well adjusted kid you're talking to is "well-adjusted" because of the medication. When you remove that, who knows what's going to happen.

Here are the possible scenarios for you when Mr. Zoloft walks in:

1. You tell him he's DQ'd until he's got a doctor's note saying he's been off the drugs for a year, and it's still going to be a med waiver. Most likely outcome of this: You never see the kid again. How this affects you, the recruiter: It's an appointment made and conducted and that has value.

2. You tell him to shut-up about it. Most likely outcome of this: He coughs to the meds on the floor. How this affects you, the recruiter: You're now under scrutinity. If this is a first offense it will likely just be a "bad boy, pre-qual better" thing. If you've done this before, it's possibly going to get you investigated. This is not fun. Or, as you can see in this example, the "kid" (he was a 30 year old) did shut-up about it, enlisted, and blew his head off. Those sorts of things tend to cause ESD too look into your activities. This is not fun. Even assuming you manage to get the kid through MEPS, and into Basic, and he graduates, do you really want to have been responsible for putting a new Soldier in who can only maintain an even keel through the secret use of medication?

Believe me I know the temptation of a quick contract. While I'm still a pup in the recruiting world, I'm not a new jack. I've put a couple people in. I've had good months. I've had bad months. I've had "Yes First Sergeant. You're right First Sergeant. I'm a terrible recruiter and a failure as a human being" months. I know how tempting it is to just tell the kid to "shut-up".

Unfortunatly we don't recruit in the world in which many of our instructors at ARC recruited. Too many agencies release law violations to the FBI, and the checks come back in under three days. The docs are too good at getting people to reveal their medical past because the docs know that no one in this modern world goes through life with straight "no" on their 2807. Too many parents are willing to have their kids medicated. The use of inhalers to help with childhood congestion is greater than before. And to top it all off between minicameras, cell phones, and a 24 hours news cycle that devours controversy, we in the recruiting world are lined up behind the 8, 9, and 10 balls. Oh, and don't forget that ARISS retains a record of every change you make to a record when you replicate.

Recruiting is a hard enough slog as it is. We're recruiting in a strong economy, during a period of extended combat, in an enviroment where, depending on how the polling question is asked, a majority of the country doesn't support the war being fought. And we're supposed to recruit kids who watch Green Day on MTV singing about American Idiots, see a daily update on the number of people killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and then go to bed with Jon Stewart sardonically questioning that whole "terrorists want to kill us" thing.

If we're lucky we only have to recruit for three years and then return to the Army with our rank equal to or greater than we started, our blood pressure slightly elevated, a new appreciation for CTT, and our integrity not in tatters (it is going to be a little frayed. As was explained to me in Recruiting School "you can live in the gray, just never go into the black"). Self-inflicted gun shot wounds like "No, you don't have to list that," is just adding to your misery. Which dovetails nicely into my next piece of advice.

Let me paint a word picture for you.

You're a recruiter.

Stop screaming in terror you wuss.

You're a recruiter. You're in the office calling off a list and Johnny Bigsmile walks in. You get your hooks into him before anyone else in the officer realizes a walk-in just happened. He's sitting at your desk and you go through the motions. He takes the EST and comes up with a 78. He's got no law, no med, and you start in on the features and benefits. His eyes light up when you mention the awe-inspiring power of the Abrams. He wants to join and become a 19K. At this point the conversation gets serious. You break out your planning guide and look at the calendar. The kid can't get off until Friday and Saturday, this is perfect. It gives you time to prepare the packet, get him projected, and it's a Saturday processing. You can have a GA in three days. The Station Commander will get off your back. You might get RIP. Sweet!

You're asking him questions are you input his data into ARISS. While you're working he's got a 2807 (the medial pre-screen). You notice him hesitating.

Uh oh.

"So, Johnny, what's up?" you ask him.

"Well, this question here. It asks if I've ever seen a psychologist."

Double uh oh.

At this point you probe. Turns out Johnny is currently on meds for some condition. He says it's "nothing serious", but you're not so sure.

"Johnny, that form says you need to put everything there, and if you put anything down on that form it's possible it will keep you from enlisting," you tell him.

**Although I'm sure some will read that and be like "OMG! SFC B IS TELLING HIM TO LIE!", I'm not. Listen, we get people who think that every cough is an indicator of pnenomia and every sneeze indicates that they're allergic to air. Before some applicant gets himself DQ'd because he once got a bad headache 10 years ago and has never had anything like that again, I want to make sure they understand what they're putting down on that form. I care too much about my wife and my rank to put either at risk for something I can get waived.**

"So, you're telling me to lie about this medication?" is what Johnny asks you.

At this point in time you need to, clearly, very clearly, state that he is disqualified from the service/will require documentation from his doctor/ need a med waiver.

Think about this for a second. This walk-in, who you've never met before in your life, has just presented you with a career-altering choice. I don't care how hot to join this kid is. I don't care how deep on a nut I am. I don't care about any of that. In this day and age, with multiple "exclusives" across the country featuring grainy video of recruiters saying stupid things, if it's too good to be true, it is.

I am yet to see one of these "hidden camera" things which didn't feature a statement like "So you're telling me to..." followed by something incriminating. That's their "line". It's a HUGE warning to you, and you ignore it at your peril. Think about it this way: whatever you say in response to that question is what will be the teaser trailer on the evening news. This isn't a gray area. Assume that person is recording you. Whether it's press, some punk kid, or an investigator from the recruiting command. It's a trap and if you say anything other than "Sorry, you're DQ'd," then you're going to be hearing about it. And even if it's NOT a trap, you're still not going to set yourself up for later ruin when the punk opens his mouth to doc and happily writes a statement for the XO.

I'm here for you.

How much not fun would it be to get a phone call like this "The Battalion Commander was just interviewed by CBS. They have you on video saying something stupid."? Can you imagine how much it must suck to be the recruiter on tape saying "We had someone sneak their drugs into Basic."? That's not a receipe for a happy evening. I can't even think of a way to spin that so it doesn't sound horrible. At that point your best option is to probably hope for an Article 15.

I'd love to be able to pick apart the story from WTVF. But whatever hyperbole they have in highlighting the "SEVERE PENALITIES" from the 2807 is far outdone by the fact that there is practically no way that "Me and you are the only ones who know it... almost like, don't ask, don't tell. You don't tell," isn't exactly what it sounds like.

Rereading this I can't help but feel like I'm being too harsh. Who am I to judge? I'm a lowly field recruiter half a country away. I don't have authority over my own desk, so who am I to say that what is in front of my eyes is wrong? I haven't seen anything more than you have. I've seen the same videos, read the same reporting, and my hip-pocket judgement is that those guys were in the wrong. Barring a Borat-like "NOT" being edited out of the video, there really isn't a different take though.

While those highlighted by a local news team's investigative team face a likely unhappy future, the rest of us can learn from their mistake. Take note of the phrase "So you're telling me I don't need to...". Your walk-in or call-in says that, stop. Stop right there. I'm super serial guys. Stop. Much like the poor Wango-Tango dance recruiter, you're about to do or say something stupid and/or incriminating. Choose your next words very carefully. If a grainy video is going to be shown to your Battalion Commander, wouldn't you prefer it to be the B-Roll stuff of you saying "Sorry man, I'm not telling you that. I'm telling you you're disqualified. Thank you for your interest. I hope you have a great Army day. And do you know anyone else who might be interested?"

It's your choice.


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