How Not To Enlist

With President Bill Clinton looking for congressional approval to send 20,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia, you might be thinking: this is the perfect time to enlist in the armed forces. Not only would a peacekeeping mission offer you an opportunity to serve your country as it leads the way "from horror to hope," but the former Yugoslavia is beautiful this time of year. The leaves have all changed color, and the rivers have frozen over, but at least they're no longer running red with the blood of men, women, and children.As Clinton has stated, "Now our conscience demands that we act. Now is the time to get in some sightseeing."The question, then, is which branch of the military industrial complex you should join. Would you rather die on the ground or at sea? We sent our man Harmon Leon to the recruitment offices of the Marines, the Army, and the Navy on a fact-finding mission. Here's what he found:THE MARINESSLOGAN: "The few. The proud. The Marines."MOVIES: Officer and a GentlemanADVANTAGES: I'd be able to kick serious ass.DISADVANTAGES: I'd have to do push-ups in the mud while Sarge calls me "small" and "weak."After taking a major bong hit, I journey to the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in San Francisco. It's located right next to a tire center and a pawn shop. I'm wearing a T-shirt that says, "Kill 'em all. Let God sort 'em out." My knuckles are adorned with fake tattoos that say "LOVE" and "HATE."The building is completely empty except for the military, each branch in a different office. I'm shaking from the six cups of coffee I drank early to create the desired, intense effect. As I make my way down toward the Marines' office, I'm stopped by the Army, in the guise of Sergeant Albertson."Can I help you with anything?" he asks."Oh... I'm going to see the Marines."I stick out my chest. I don't think I've ever said this phrase before."Well, when you get done, come check us out."He winks and points at me. I feel like saluting. Instead, I continue on toward the Marines. I open their door and notice the office is full of Marines. They all look very similar.One Marine asks me, "Did the Army guy try to stop you?""Yeah."They all roll their eyes."He does that to everybody," says the Marine at the farthest desk.I'm assigned to talk to Sergeant Grant. I learn that to be a good recruiter, you must be very nice. I tell him my name is Abe Vigoda. He looks me squarely in the eyes."Why do you want to be a United States Marine, Abe?" he asks with a smile.I slouch in my chair. It's a pop quiz, and I'm caught off guard."Cuz... I... want to serve my country?" His eyes are still on me. He seems as if he's waiting for more. "Oh," I say, "and I want to see some action."I snap my fingers on "action," showing off the "HATE" side of my faux tattoo."Then I think the Marines would be the place for you."I think for a second, then add: "I was also looking at the Navy.""The Navy!"The tone of Sarge's voice suggests that the Navy is filled with individuals who order milk when dining out."Either the Navy or the Marines. In court, the judge gave me the choice of any of the armed forces.""Do you have a police record, Abe?""Um, yeah," I answer like it's obvious I do."And what for?""Assault."In a roundabout way, Sarge explains it's okay to assault someone but not with a deadly weapon. This will enable you to join the Marines, where you can assault people with rifles."Can you explain your assault charge?""Let's just say that guy shouldn't have been dating my sister," I say.Sarge writes this down. Then he hands me an armed-forces sample entrance exam. It involves math and vocabulary, with questions like, "What is the definition of 'little'?" I'm going to have to concentrate and put a lot of effort into failing this test.When I finish, I hand the exam back to Sarge. I get into the spirit. He is amazed that I finished a 35-minute exam in six minutes."All done, sir!""With part one?""No, sir! With the whole thing, sir!"Sarge takes me into another room, giving my exam to a different sarge, Sarge No. 2, who corrects it. It occurs to me that this man knows several ways to kill me with his bare hands.There's a deck of colored cards on the coffee table. One says, "Leadership Skills." Another says, "Challenge," and another, "Courage." A test of some sort is about to take place."I want you to pick your top three and place them in order of importance from one to three."I look toward the bottom of the deck. This is what I came up with:1. Travel and adventure 2. Physical fitness 3. Leadership skillsI look content. Sarge asks me to explain.I say, "I want to get in good shape, then travel to Europe... or Hawaii." I make a dreamy face.My test is brought in by Sarge No. 2. I scored 5 percent correct."I'm sorry, Abe. You didn't pass the exam."I see that I got zero correct on the math part. Two more sarges come in, look at my exam, and leave. A third sarge comes in. He's eating from a container of Kentucky Fried Chicken cole slaw. He looks at the exam and puts his foot on the coffee table. I'm getting the feeling that I've become an exhibit at the moron zoo."I'm going to give you a study guide so you can brush up, come back, and retake the test on Monday," says Kentucky Fried Sarge."I've never been good at math," I confess. I am less than proud, a pathetic excuse for a lean, mean, addin' and subtractin' machine."I've never been good at math," I say again, shaking my head, not knowing what went wrong. I walk out of the office, mumbling about those "damn coefficients." I make my way down the hall and almost out the front door, when I hear a voice coming from the Army office.THE ARMYSLOGAN: "Be all that you can be."MOVIES: Stripes, Platoon, and that one where Pauly Shore got a haircutADVANTAGES: Learn how to fire a gunDISADVANTAGES: Have my head shaved and sleep in a room with 20 other guys."Hey, how's it going?" asks the voice.I halt. It's Sergeant Albertson! He's gung-ho and eager to recruit! Boom shaka-laka!"So," he says cockily. "You checked out the Marines, huh?""The Marines are the coolest!" I say.He lowers his voice. "Just between you and me, you got much better options with the Army." Sergeant Albertson would be a good used-car salesman. "Why do you want to join the Marines?""Cuz I want to see a lot of action." I snap my fingers again, showing off my "LOVE" tattoo. He moves his chair closer to mine."Well, in the Army, we can set you up to be a Ranger. They're the first guys down on the line to face the opposition. How does that sound?"I nod my head and grin like an idiot."You wear a helmet with an infrared visor. It looks like you're a cyber-warrior from Star Wars. How does that sound?"I act as though I am about to wet my pants."What do you say you call me up tomorrow, 9:30 sharp, and say, 'Sergeant A' - that's what you can call me, Sergeant A - 'I'd like to come in and take the admissions test.' " We'd meet somewhere, have a hamburger, and I'd drive you to the enlistment center, and you'd be in the Army by Saturday."I pick at my ear. "But I was also thinking of joining the Navy."Sergeant A gives me a look that says: You are king of the dipshits. "Do you really want to be stuck on a boat for weeks on end?"We smile at each other."In the Army," Sergeant A continues, "you'll get to travel all over the world. Europe, Asia, Africa... "I think I know how to play ball with Sergeant A. "Do you get to meet a lot of women?" I ask.Sergeant A scoots his chair closer to mine. "Just between you and me, you'll have some stories to tell." He gives me a knowing look, waiting for me to smile.After an awkward pause, he gets down to business. "Let me get some basic information. What's your name again?""Bert Parks.""Bert, do you have any dependents? Any children?""No.""Or, at least, none that you know of?"We both laugh. I'm sure that joke never gets old.Now, Bert, have you done drugs in the past 45 days?""No.""If you have, all you have to say to me is, 'Sergeant A, can I wait 45 days before taking the drug test?' No questions asked."I get the feeling that Sergeant A, like football great Herschel Walker, gets a kick out of referring to himself in the third person.I ask him if I definitely need to get a haircut to join the Army."Bert, it's mandatory."I stand up. "Sergeant A, I think then that I will not be joining your so-called 'Army.' " I gather my papers, snap my head, and march out.THE NAVYSLOGAN: "In the Navy, you can sail the seven seas." - The Village PeopleMOVIES: Top Gun, A Few Good MenADVANTAGES: A good job if you like boatsDISADVANTAGES: You're stuck on a boat with a bunch of horny men who may or may not have been involved in the Tailhook scandal.My last stop. I'm wearing a large floral shirt. I enter the office. Everyone is dressed like a sailor. Unlike me, no one finds this hysterical. I try to convince myself that, although the other branches mock Navy men, they are simply a misunderstood bunch.I wait for my recruiting officer, who turns out to be a woman. A very tiny woman. Maybe the Marine and Army guys were right. I imagine a ship filled with long conga lines and limbo contests. I hope my fantasy does not implicate me in the Tailhook scandal.My recruiter is Linda. I'm too stunned by her gender to catch her rank. We sit at her desk. There's a picture of Linda singing in a Navy talent show. I tell her my name is Newman Sherman. "Newman, what are your goals?""I want to go to college.""And what do you want to study?"I lean back in my chair, ponder this, and speak slowly: "Modern interpretive dance."I'm still nodding, picturing this in my head. The tiny recruiter presses on."And what are your goals after completing your interpretive-dance degree?"My head is still nodding. Again, I speak slowly: "I want a brand-new car.""Newman, have you ever used drugs?""Yes." I say this with enthusiasm."What kind of drugs?""Oh... everything." I pause, then wave my finger emphatically. "But never amyl nitrite.""Did you use speed, marijuana, mushrooms?""Oh, yes." I sit up in my chair. My eyes widen.She requests some elaboration. "But I quit doing drugs a long time ago.""Oh, that's good.""It's been at least five months."I'm now shown a Navy recruiting video. I watch it with grave seriousness. I even rest my hands on my chin and squint my eyes. The video shows a bunch of Navy guys running around on a boat, playing with cool stuff, such as a radar.When it ends, Linda questions me further. I wouldn't be surprised if she asked me to sit cross-legged on the floor."So, how does the Navy sound to you?""I was actually thinking of joining the Army." I'm hoping she will bad-mouth the Army."Well, the Navy will give you more money for school. And besides, in the Navy, you don't get shot at," she says smugly, with a hint of a smile in the corner of her mouth.Now I can see the Marines and the Army's point. I start slowly rubbing my chest."I think I'd like to join so I can work with all those men - I mean sailors. On that big boat!""Yes, it's a team effort. And once you're in port, you'll only have to work one day out of four."No wonder all the animosity. While the Army and Marines are out ducking grenades, these bell-bottom-wearing clowns are boozing it up, chasing hookers."Can I be stationed on a submarine?" I ask."Yes. Is that something you're thinking about?""I think I would like to be in a submarine, below the ocean, with all those men - I mean sailors."So what does it all mean? Our findings suggest that the U.S. military is eminently equipped to handle the rebuilding of the former Yugoslavia. Judging by the recruitment process, the Marines, Army, and Navy are peopled with empathetic, caring young men and women. Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia will no doubt recover quickly with the help of our troops. Our military men and women will apply the soothing salve to the wounds caused by mass executions, ethnic cleansing, and campaigns of rape and terror. Our findings also suggest that the atom will forever provide a clean and safe energy source; scientists are on the verge of synthesizing a low-calorie, low-fat cookie that will retain all its tasty goodness; the Rangers will win the World Series in 1996; Louis Farrakhan watches Friends; and Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.