The Army's new pitch 

My turn

You and your son are both frustrated. He’s a good kid but he’s had a hard time focusing on what he wants to do with his life. School hasn’t been a big success and although he’s managed to hold a job, it feels like a dead end. You want something better for him — and so does he.

Then, one afternoon, the two of you are working on the car and your son starts talking about joining the Army. “C’mon, Dad,” says your boy, “you always said ‘finish what you start.’” He says he wants to find a place where his discipline and determination will be given a chance, “where they matter.”

Your son says he thinks the Army could be that place.

“Dad,” he says, “talk to me.”

Maybe you’ve lived through something like this scene — or maybe you’ve watched it on TV. It’s based on one of the ads in the Army’s new recruiting campaign. In this particular version, after the son implores his dad to talk to him, the words YOUR TURN fill the screen. The idea seems to be that it’s going to be tough for you to come up with a better idea than the Army for what your son should do with his life.

But let’s think about this: What the son in this ad is saying is that he wants to volunteer for a job with a boss who’s been less than straight with the people who work for him. That’s what the Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General reported earlier this month when it said Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith cherry-picked intelligence to justify making war against Iraq. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction; there was no connection between Saddam and the Sept. 11 terrorists. President Bush sent soldiers to war in Iraq anyway.

That’s just the beginning. This boss doesn’t give workers the tools they need to do their jobs. In 2003, soldiers being deployed to Iraq had to go to Army surplus outlets to buy their own body armor. Today, they are still complaining about the fact that their Humvees lack sufficient protection from roadside bombs. And a recent spate of helicopter crashes has revealed that a large number of the choppers being used in Iraq are at least 30 years old.

It gets worse. There are real doubts about whether or not this boss keeps his promises. According to the Veterans Today Web site, there are 16 injuries in Iraq for every fatality. This, writes Linda Blimes, is an unprecedented casualty level, due, ironically, to better medical care. In Vietnam and Korea, fewer than three people were wounded for each fatality. In World Wars I and II, there were less than two.

“But like so much else about this war,” Blimes writes, “the Bush Administration … failed to plan for the growing tide of veterans who would be in urgent need of medical and disability care. The result is that as the Iraq war approaches its fourth anniversary, the Department of Veterans Affairs is buckling under a growing volume of disability claims and rising demand for medical attention.” 

More than 200,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated at Veterans Administration medical facilities — more than three times what the VA projected, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis. Over a third of these vets have suffered from mental health conditions related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Thousands more are reportedly afflicted with brain and spinal injuries. But as Dr. Frances Murphy, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health, has written, mental health and substance abuse care are not provided at all VA clinics and the waiting lists at those that do provide these services “render that care virtually inaccessible.”

The VA’s walk-in neighborhood Vet Centers have treated 144,000 new veterans. But these centers are so understaffed they are sending many vets who need individual therapy into group sessions or placing them on waiting lists.

Wounded vets trying to obtain the disability checks owed them find themselves waiting six months to two years for their first checks to arrive. The Veterans Benefits Administration has a backlog of 400,000 pending claims and rising.

OK, says your son, this sounds bad, but what about that $40,000 the Army says it’ll give me for college? In the first place, that money is harder to get than he might think. Several conditions must be met, including that recruits contribute $100 per month for the first 12 months of their tour. You must also score in the top half of the military entry lists and be willing to enter a designated job specialty. Bottom line: The boss doesn’t want to send you to college; he wants you to enlist. Most recruits never qualify for the full $40,000.

If, like the ad says, it was my turn to talk, these are some of the things I’d say to my son. And then I’d tell him that I loved him.

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David Hoppe

David Hoppe

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