The San Francisco Chronicle, the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Sun-Times,
the L.A. Times, and USA Today, along with other various media outlets
have reported on the lengths the U.S. military has gone to reach
recruiting targets in order to provide additional grist for the mills
of Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, the Pentagon published a “Moral
Waiver Study,” whose seemingly benign goal was “to better define
relationships between pre-Service behaviors and subsequent Service
success.” That study, along with lowering the bar on educational,
medical, and physical standards turned out to mean opening more
recruitment doors to potential enlistees with criminal records, no
education, possible mental health issues, and general fatness.

Between 2004 and 2005, there was a significant increase in the
number of recruits with what the Army terms ‘serious criminal
misconduct’ in their background” — a category that included
“aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen
property and making terrorist threats.” In this one-year span, the
number of those recruits rose by more than 54 percent, while alcohol
and illegal drug waivers, reversing a four-year decline, increased by
more than 13 percent. The military’s own data has indicated that the
percentage of recruits entering the Army with waivers for misdemeanors
and medical problems has more than doubled since 2001. Under these
revised standards, the Army recruited 80,635 soldiers in 2006, roughly
7,000 more than in 2005. Of those, 70,000 were first-time recruits who
had never served before and 3.8 percent of them scored below the bottom
aptitude percentile level. In previous years, the Army had allowed only
2 percent of its recruits to have scores that low. Shockingly enough,
the limit has since been raised to 4 percent, the maximum allowable
level under Department of Defense rules. Of course, the Army, taking a
page out of the teacher’s union and other educational quality
apologists’ playbook, has maintained that good test scores do not
necessarily equate to quality soldiers and that test-taking ability
does not measure loyalty, duty, honor, integrity or courage.

It is within this context that HBO’s new documentary, The
Recruiter, is set and it is within this context that it must be viewed.
While the filmmakers go to great lengths to provide an apolitical,
non-ideological framework, the Dumb-ocles Sword of recent U.S. foreign
policy hangs heavy over the proceedings, which are punctuated by
sporadic radio and TV news stories concerning troop injuries and death.
Nowhere is this more poignant than an incident that claims the lives of
four reservists from the New Orleans town of Houma, where the
documentary takes place. It is in this rural, bursting at the seams
patriotic hamlet where we meet both the recruiters and the recruits
they “close” using tactics right out of Glengarry Glen Ross.

Chris – A quiet, overweight kid who, like John Candy in Stripes,
appears to be enlisting in the Army so he can get in better shape,
although it would not be a stretch to picture him as being more like
Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. Not much is known or shown about
Chris beyond this point, other than the fact that he’s a child of
divorce with a stepfather who may or may not be abusive and/or engaged
in any manner with his stepson’s upbringing. Chris is perhaps the
saddest one of the bunch – a lonely, fat nerd just looking for
acceptance and perhaps a little payback.


Lauren – A lesbian, gothic/emo, wigger basketball player, who says she
wants to join so she can earn money for art school. Her obese and
borderline abusive mother encourages her enlistment in hopes that the
Army will cure her daughter’s lesbian tendencies. Lauren likes to draw
pictures of dead things and people, chain smokes, dresses and talks
like a character from The Wire, and probably couldn’t find Iraq on a
map. Of Iraq.

Matt – Mr. All-American football player and all around jock with
daddy issues who, like his equally clueless teenage fiancé, appears to
be sold more on the prospect of creating an instant family courtesy of
free military housing and getting his truck paid for than recognizing
the grim possibilities of war. Matt is a true believer, through and
through, and a poster boy for Army recruiters.

Bobby – The Honor Student, with a school teacher mother and a
lawyer father. The only recruit from what appears to be an intact and
non-dysfunctional home. Bobby’s motivations are completely unknown, but
are speculated on by his father (bored at school, needs time off, wants
to serve like his father, grandfather, and other family members). Bobby
is quiet, reserved and has been pre-selected for Special Forces
Training. I found myself constantly asking why in the fuck did he
decided to go this route when in a sane world, he would be headed off
to college and four years of beer and easy pussy.

These kids, and their futures, are doggedly and relentlessly
pursued by Sgt. First Class Clay Usie, the Ricky Roma of Army
recruiters. Usie spends the vast majority of his time staking out high
schools and high school gatherings like a modern day Wooderson. But
Usie sells death and dismemberment instead of organizing beer busts and
runs to Austin to pick up Aerosmith tickets. Usie is the A-number one,
biggest cock on the block, soldier of the year who believes in God,
family, and country – in that order. His job, apart from conning dumb
kids and their friends into joining the Army with promises of relevant
training, good pay, and exotic adventure, is to prepare the suckers he
reels in for the rigors of basic training. But make no mistake, Usie is
a salesman first and a soldier second. And the first rule of being a
good salesman is that you never sell the product, you sell yourself.
Usie is the kind of guy who will meet you at 5:00 a.m. at the gym to
work out, will talk endlessly about himself and his accomplishments,
will cajole you into inviting your friends to your little workout
sessions, will serve as your big brother, your father, your uncle, and
your best friend, if it means that you will sign away your life on the
dotted line.

I had a friend who, shortly after graduating college, somehow
became involved with Amway and was immediatly ostracized by our group
of friends because we didn’t want to hear a sales pitch every time he
was around. It wasn’t that we didn’t like him it was that he just
couldn’t help himself. He had been totally brainwashed into the
American dream of earning vast amounts of quick money by pitching to
his friends and family – the soft targets. It is this search for the
soft target that drives Usie and his fellow recruiters. The normal,
educated, ambitious, and well-adjusted need not apply. Like the Moonies
or Heaven’s Gate, the Army cult seeks out the maladjusted, the lonely,
the ones seeking any kind of guidance and direction as long as it comes
with a sense of belonging and escape. They target the ones with family
problems, especially the ones from single-mother homes. They target the
disaffected, the directionless, the angry, and the outright dumb.

That these kids don’t fully understand what they are getting into is a
theme you hear repeated throughout the documentary. You hear it from
their parents, from some of the recruiters, and from the instructors in
basic training. You even hear it in the way these recruits repeat the
military propaganda that glamourizes military service. All of this begs
the question why, if these kids can’t or don’t fully appreciate what
they are getting themselves into, are they allowed, or in some cases,
encouraged, to enlist in the first place? Bobby’s father tearfully
tells the camera that he would feel like a hypocrite for discouraging
his son’s enlistment since he, himself, served. But harsh reality and
truthfulness is what these kids need, particularly during a time of
war. But in today’s context, preying on a seventeen or eighteen
year-old’s naïvité is the only way to fill the ranks.

However not all of Usie’s recruiters have the brass balls required for
such a high powered human sales position. One recruiter who appears to
have fallen victim in the past to the same line of shit that he’s
selling today, is Willie Loman to Usie’s Ricky Roma, but without the
delusions of grandeur. While he never explicitly admits it, he
obviously knows that what he’s doing is wrong and does everything he
can within reason to sabotage himself and his recruitment efforts. The
only honorable man present, he can no longer cope with the guilt of
selling young men and women a coffin disguised as money for school or a
trade. His heart just isn’t in it anymore after seeing the horrors that
await these kids in Iraq.

The last part of the documentary follows three of the four recruits
through basic training (Chris was shipped out earlier than the others
due to high casualties). Whether or not it was the intention of the
filmmakers to “rush” through this part of the feature is unknown, but
it does capture the almost hurried process of basic training, with an
emphasis on the word, “basic.” Recruits do calisthenics, march,
wrestle, fire guns, graduate, and are then shipped off to die, that is
if they don’t succumb to a panic attack when being issued their
uniforms and skivvies and coming to the realization that life as they
know it is now over. Only Bobby appears to receive anything remotely
approaching combat training. After graduation, Matt and Lauren return
to Houma on a one-month leave before shipping off to Iraq. Matt spends
his month getting married, with Usie as his best man and substitute
father. Lauren returns to her rural shack, her lesbian lover, and a
month of moping and complaining over her ill-advised decision to enlist
and expressing genuine surprise that the Army doesn’t offer art

A concluding epilogue tells us the fates of these characters, but I
will conclude with an epilogue of my own from the San Francisco

In the latter half of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military started to
crumble from within and American troops began scrawling “UUUU” on their
helmet liners — an abbreviation that stood for “the unwilling, led by
the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful.”

With a growing majority of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq and
even ardent hawks refusing to enlist in droves, new policies creating a
lower-quality officer corps and the Pentagon pulling out ever more
stops and sinking to new lows to recruit and train troops, a new
all-volunteer generation of UUUU’s may emerge — the underachieving,
unable, unexceptional, unintelligent, unsound, unhinged, unacceptable,
unhealthy, undesirable, unloved and uncivil — all led by the
unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful.



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