Army Recruiter Threatens High School Student with Jail Time

Amy Goodman: As the wars drag on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is increasingly desperate to get recruits. A story involving an Army recruiter in Texas last week has now led to a bipartisan call for an investigation.

The recruiter from the Greenspoint Recruiting Station in Houston was suspended last week after a recording of his threats aired on a local CBS affiliate, KHOU. The recruiter, Sergeant Glenn Marquette, warned 18-year-old Irving Gonzalez that he would be sent to jail if he decided to go to college instead of joining the military, even though Gonzalez had signed a non-binding contract that left him free to change his mind before basic training.

Republican Congress member Ted Poe told the CBS affiliate that "We don't want the government, military, the Army, deceiving American citizens" and suggested that Congress might have to get involved if the Army did not react to the incident.

Last year, Irving Gonzalez and Eric Martinez signed up for the non-binding delayed enlistment program in high school. But earlier this summer, when 17-year-old Eric Martinez told his recruiters he had decided to go to college instead of the military, his mother was told Eric had no choice and could face jail time if he resisted joining. Irving Gonzalez helped get Eric out of enlistment hours before he was to be shipped out of Houston for training. He knew he was next in line. He decided to record his next conversation with his recruiters. This is a part of what Sergeant Marquette told Irving Gonzalez in that recorded conversation.
Irving Gonzalez: The main thing is, I want out. I don't want to be in it. I don't want to go to the Army.
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: Well, you need to talk to my company commander.
Irving Gonzalez: To your company commander?
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: Mm-hmm. You need to come in here, and I need to bring you to my company commander.
Irving Gonzalez: But is there a way out? Is there a way for me to get out, because I don't want to go in there if you are just going to like…
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: No, there is not a way out. You signed a binding contract.
Irving Gonzalez: There's no way out?
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: No. When you sign a contract…
Irving Gonzalez: But I'd probably be able to get scholarships.
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: You need a full ride scholarship, full ride, to a state university -- UT, AM. Full ride. That means everything is paid for -- classes, books, you know, lodging, you know, breakfast, lunch and dinner -- all paid for, not no partial scholarship, not no FAA scholarship, not no First Citizen Bank scholarship. No, we're talking full ride scholarship, because there ain't no partial scholarship out there that even comes close to what the Army's giving you for college. It's forty-plus thousand dollars.
Irving Gonzalez: Yeah, I know, but, I mean, it's kind of like a family thing, too. I'd rather just stay here. What if I just don't show up?
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: Then, guess what. You're AWOL, absent without leave, punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 86: Deserter. It's in your contract. Read it. It's clear as day. So then, guess what happens.
Irving Gonzalez: What's that?
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: Guess what happens to you, I'll tell you what happens to you, OK? This is what will happen. You want to go to school? You will not get no loans, because all college loans are federal and government loans. So you'll be black-marked from that. As soon as you get pulled over for a speeding ticket or anything with the law, they're gonna see that you're a deserter. Then they're going to apprehend you, take you to jail. They're going to call up the military police, the nearest military installation, and they will come down there, correctional officers, 31-series in the Army, pick you up, detain you, put you on a plane and take you to Fort [inaudible], Missouri, where you will do your time, as you deserve. So guess what. All that lovey-dovey "I want to go to college" and all this? Guess what. You just threw it out the window, because you just screwed your life. There's a right way to do things, and there's a wrong way to do things.
Irving Gonzalez: OK. Well, I mean, [inaudible] --
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: If you get into basic training and you don't like it, tell the chaplain you don't like it. That's the right way to get out of the Army. Then they'll process you out of the Army, and they'll tell you to adapt, and there's nothing against your record.
Irving Gonzalez: That would be the right way to do it?
Sgt. Glenn Marquette: Yeah, and you can come back home and do your thing. And then, also, guess what. If you do it that way, if you do it that way, maybe they'll even want you in the future. You may say, "Well, damn, I'm coming to join the Army this time." Then, guess what. You can. You can join then, because you got out of the Army the right way. You at least got to go to basic training and try it.
Amy Goodman: U.S. Army recruiter Sergeant Glenn Marquette, threatening 18-year-old Irving Gonzalez. Gonzalez and Eric Martinez now are joining us from Houston, Texas. We're also joined in Houston by Democratic Congress member Gene Green, who is calling on the Department of Defense to look into the incident, and by community organizer Maureen Haver. She is the founder of Not Even One, a website to disseminate information and take action against illegal military recruiting practices. Douglas Smith is also on the phone with us. He’s the public affairs officer at the U.S. Military Recruiting Command, joining us on the phone from Louisville, Kentucky.

Irving Gonzalez, I’d like to start with you. You had this conversation with the Army recruiter. Explain how this all came about, beginning actually with Eric being threatened.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Irving Gonzalez, I'd like to start with you. You had this conversation with the Army recruiter. Explain how this all came about, beginning actually with Eric being threatened.

Irving Gonzalez: Well, it started around a year before -- a year ago. I was still 17, and when I got in, Eric was already thinking about it before I was. But, you know, right after I got in, like two weeks later, he decided to go ahead and join the DEP program, too. And from there, that's how it started. And, I mean, we didn't think it was going to get this far, but they started -- for a while, whenever we were thinking upon not joining, they started calling us and telling us that we didn't have a choice, you know, that we could say all we want, we don't have a choice to go or not, if we want to or not.

Amy Goodman: Eric, if you could explain how far this went; how did you meet the military recruiter? Talk about what you understood, what you signed, and how, eventually, you end up basically escaping from a hotel.

Eric Martinez: Well, I met her at Irving's house, because the day he went to go enlist for the DEP, I was at his house. And I talked to her and told her I was interested in the military. And then, she says, like, "Well, what branch?" And I wasn't too sure yet. And she talked to me about it. And I was like, "OK, well, let me get back to you on that." And it took me about two weeks before I decided to actually join the DEP. And --

Amy Goodman: DEP means delayed enlistment program?

Eric Martinez: Yes. And from what I understood, is that it's just there so you can save a spot, so, you know, you can have the job you want as soon as you get there and so you won't have a problem with it later on. And then, as things went further, I decided not to go. And when I told her that, she said I had no choice and that I had to go. So I believed her, and I went to the hotel. They took me to the hotel. And that's whenever Irving's little brother contacted me. And then I told him I was leaving --

Amy Goodman: The hotel was preparing to leave?

Eric Martinez: Well, they keep you at the hotel until the morning. And from the -- in the morning, you go down to the office, and you do a few more tests. And then from there, you leave to the fort you're supposed to go to.

Amy Goodman: Did they approach your family, like your mother?

Eric Martinez: Well, yeah. Whenever I didn't want to go, my mom's like, "OK, well, then just go stay at your sister's house, and we'll tell them you left to San Antonio." And I was like, OK. We did that. And my shipment date came, and my recruiter went to my house, and my mom says, like, "Well, he left to San Antonio." And he's all, like, well -- she's all, like, "Well, you've got to tell us where. Give us an address, so we can go pick him up." And my mom's like, "Well, he don't want to go. What don't you understand about that?" And then she told her that I signed a binding contract and that I had to go. So, my mom was like, "Well, let's go talk to your boss. I'll meet you down at your office."

So my mom went, and she talked to Sergeant Marquette and told him that I didn't want to go, and that's it. And Marquette said that I had to go, and if I didn't, that I'd have a warrant for my arrest and I wouldn't be able to get no government loans or nothing like that. So, my mom doesn't really know anything about it, so she believed it, and she told me. And I believed it, too, because I didn't know much about it either. So they extended my time until that Friday. And then, Thursday, they went to get me, so I can go to the hotel.

Amy Goodman: Irving Gonzalez, once Eric went to the hotel, how did your little brother get involved?

Irving Gonzalez: Well, I talked to Eric on the Wednesday before, before anything happened, and I told him that he wasn't going to have to go, but I didn't keep in contact with him that morning or that afternoon. And around nighttime, like around 10:00 or 11:00, I told my brother, "Call Eric. See what he's doing." And when he called him, Eric just seemed like really low-pitch voice. He didn't say -- it took him a while until he finally told us that he was already at the hotel, and he didn't want to tell nobody bye, because he was just going to get sad. So, we're like, "You're at the hotel?" And we're like, "You don't have to go. I don't know why you think you need to go. You don't need to go." And Eric was like, "No, I need to go, and you're going to need to go, too. They're going to go get you, too. This isn't a game. You can't play with them." And I was like, "Well, just hold on. I'll call you back."

And that's when I decided to call Maureen and Dwight, and I told them about the situation. And they started helping us by contacting anti-recruiters from Washington and people that know more information about it to talk to Eric, because he was kind of like in a state of not knowing who to trust. And we put him on three-way, and we talked to him. And finally, we were able to get everything straight, you know, where it will be good, and we should go get him and stuff.

So, Eric was like, "OK, come pick me up." But Eric didn't know where he was at. They just dropped him off at a -- he just knew he was at a hotel. He looks out the window. He said all he saw was an Olive Garden. So, I mean, that's the only thing we knew where to look for him at. And he finally called downstairs, the main office, and they told him the address. And it was like an hour away from our house, to an area I had never been to in Houston. But finally, we went down there.

And when we went down there, we saw that there was security going around the hotel, plus there was maybe like ten recruiters in the main office downstairs. And he was in the second floor, because when we got there, he was already on the balcony looking at us. It took us a while thinking about how we were going to get him out, because I was actually thinking of just walking in, just walking in and seeing what would happen. But it was just too many recruiters. I was like, no, we're going to have to find another way, because they're going to ask me questions. And it took us a while, and, I mean, the elevator didn't want to go down. They had it programmed to where, like, if you were on the second floor, you couldn't go down unless someone came up to get you. And he was actually thinking about jumping out the window. He actually climbed down to the first floor, and he was going to jump from there, but there was two beams sticking up, and it was just not going to be safe. That was like the last resort or something.

And my friend Junior, he was with us. It was me, my brother Ivan and Junior, and we were in the car. And he just decided to say, "Well, what about if I just walk in and try to get him out?" And he put on his iPod, and he walked in. And they were trying to catch his attention. They were screaming, screaming, trying to see who we was, like, "Eh, come here!" And he just kept walking, and he walked straight into the elevator, and when he got to the second floor, he held the door open so Eric could go in. And Eric was hiding on the second floor, because there was recruiters and security walking around the second floor also. So, when he got in the elevator, they went down, and they went out through the back exit, where we met them at.

And that's when we're like, "OK, he's out. Let's go home." But we were completely lost. It took us a while to get home. But he was like an hour away, maybe less than an hour, from them actually taking him to the office to get everything taken care of. It was like 3:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning, to where we actually got everything done and got him out of there.

Amy Goodman: Eric Martinez, were you scared?

Eric Martinez: Yeah, because they put you in a place where you're doing something you don't want to, and you just start thinking about everything that's over there and everything you hear on the news. So, yeah, I was scared.

Amy Goodman: Why did you change your mind?

Eric Martinez: It's just mostly like, what I want to do, I know that I don't have to go to the Army to do it. And I don't know. It's just the stuff on the news, and I have people that we know that have been there, people who, like -- people we know that have relatives or people that have gone there that just come back really messed up, either physically or emotionally.

Amy Goodman: I'd like to go to Democratic Congress member Gene Green. You represent Houston in the U.S. Congress. What Irving and Eric are describing, it sounds like they're escaping from kidnappers. But this is the U.S. military. What is the legality of this? Eric is 17 years old. He is a kid. He's a minor.

Rep. Gene Green: Well, you know, this is not something that, as a member of Congress, I want to hear about, because it's not something that should be done. I represent the area where these young men went to high school. My children went to that high school, and my wife taught there for many years. Texas and Harris County has a great recruitment record.

I would hope we could recruit these young men and women without having to play games on them, keep them in some type of solitary confinement while we're waiting to ship them off to somewhere. You know, the non-binding contract is a bottom line. If they signed with the ability to change their mind later on, that should be the bottom line, not that they play games with them. And that's not what the military or the U.S. government should be proud of doing.

And this is the second time something like this has happened at that particular recruiting station. And I have an office right close to that station. And I'd like the Department of Defense to say, "Wait a minute. Let's do recruiting honestly." Hopefully this is not happening in other parts of the country. But if it isn't, then why is it happening at this one location?

This is a partial transcript. For the rest of the interview, visit Democracy

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