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Harassment of kids by Army Recruiters

Houston Chronicle | May 11, 2005
By MICHAEL HEDGES and DALE LEZON

Already failing to fill its monthly recruiting quotas in the face of the Iraq war, the Army will suspend enlistment efforts for one day later this month to address a rash of incidents in which recruiters harassed prospective soldiers, an official said Tuesday.
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On Friday, May 20, the Army will observe a "values stand down" during which recruiters will be told the right and wrong way to pursue people considering enlisting, said an Army official who asked not to be identified.

"It is a reaction to a combination of events in various cities across the country. No one event made us do this," the official said.

But an incident in Houston in which a recruiter threatened to call police to arrest a man resisting recruiting efforts was among the incidents that triggered the suspension, the official said.

In late April, Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Kelt left a voice mail message on the cell phone of Christopher Monarch, 20, of Spring, telling him to show up at the Greenspoint recruiting office by 2 p.m. or a warrant would be issued for his arrest, according to Monarch and an Army official.

Monarch said he didn't receive the message until after the designated time. "I was scared," he said.

He said he had not made an appointment to meet the recruiter and was not interested in joining the military.

Monarch said he called Kelt the next day to clear up the matter. Kelt told him threatening to issue an arrest warrant was a "marketing technique," according to Monarch, a version of the story the Army confirmed.

"What the recruiter did in Houston was inappropriate. He lost his cool and said some things that shouldn't have been said," the Army official said. "It was similar to a spike in problems we've seen across the country. So there was a decision to take a day to address that, to reaffirm Army values, and the recruiting values the Army teaches."

'Corrective action' taken
Monarch said he was glad the Army had decided to spend a day examining its recruiting methods and talking with local enlistment officials.

"I want people to see our stories and be aware of it," he said. "I'm looking for some kind of assurance that something would be done about it."

Recruiters are not permitted to threaten people with arrest, said Bill Grimes, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Battalion Houston. Grimes said Kelt is still on duty, but "corrective action" has been taken.

"The soldier did something he should not have done," Grimes said.

Grimes said that despite declining enlistments, recruiters are not unduly pressured to find recruits.

He said the Army's lower numbers can be attributed to several factors, including the improving economy.

The Army has missed its recruiting goals for each of the past three months, leaving it to redouble efforts this summer to reach the goal of 80,000 recruits for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, officials said.

For the first half of the fiscal year, the Army had signed up 35,926 active-duty soldiers to begin serving this year, about 15 percent short of the year-to-date goal of 42,585.

New recruiting campaign
Recruiting officials have said that while the monthly shortfalls have been troubling, the Army still felt a new marketing and advertising campaign to be rolled out this summer, along with an increase in the number of recruiters, would allow it to meet the yearly goal.

But Army officials have acknowledged that some potential recruits and their parents have been turned off by continuing images of carnage from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to the Houston episode, the Army had received complaints about overly aggressive recruiting efforts in cities ranging from New Orleans to Raleigh, N.C., to Denver, an official said.

"We need to make sure everybody has their head on straight," he said. "We've got lots of people across the country doing good things the right way, and we've got a few people doing things the wrong way."

The Army decided to let the Houston area battalion commander in charge of recruiting deal with the incident that occurred here.

Asked to predict the likely outcome, a senior Army official said similar cases have resulted in a letter of reprimand for the recruiter's file.

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