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May 09, 2006

Comments

I don't know if I'd assign this to increased pressure, hil, without evidence to that effect. Certainly there's a certain amount of garden-variety human idiocy that's at play, here.

The mummy speaks!!

Seriously, welcome back, Slarti.

And I agree with Slarti, if the higher-ups are putting pressure on Ansley to get this story buried, it almost certainly means they realize Ansley messed up and they will let the boy out.

A part of the story I didn't excerpt:

"Tracking by the Pentagon shows that complaints about recruiting improprieties are on pace to again reach record highs set in 2003 and 2004. Both the active Army and Reserve missed recruiting targets last year, and reports of recruiting abuses continue from across the country.

A family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and the fact that records about his illness were readily available.

In Houston, a recruiter warned a potential enlistee that if he backed out of a meeting he'd be arrested.

And in Colorado, a high school student working undercover told recruiters he'd dropped out and had a drug problem. The recruiter told the boy to fake a diploma and buy a product to help him beat a drug test.

Violations such as these forced the Army to halt recruiting for a day last May so recruiters could be retrained and reminded of the job's ethical requirements. (...)

Maj. Curt Steinagel, commander of the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, said the papers filled out by Jared's recruiters contained no indication of his disability. Steinagel acknowledged that the current climate is tough on recruiters.

"I can't speak for Army," he said, "but it's no secret that recruiters stretch and bend the rules because of all the pressure they're under. The problem exists, and we all know it exists.""

And welcome back, Slarti. I missed you.

Hi, Slarti, This story does not jibe with the experiences of special ed students at my high school.. I have several seniors (learning disabled or ADHD) who have been successful, in one case spectacularly so, in NROTC, and who are very committed to the military as a career, but who have been turned down by recruiters for low reading scores. The army provides for multiple chances to take the tests. So far none of the students have successfully enrolled.
I greive for them... They are the kind of people I'd like to have in an army that represents my country.

Improprieties?

I got your improprieties right here.

Also welcome to Slarti. Hope its for more than a single comment.

As to this episode and others like it.

I do believe there is pressure from the top to do a better job of recruiting (bring up the numbers). I am not so sure that there are suggestions from the top to loosen requirements.

In this case, it sounds like all the discussions, up until Jared enlisted, were between Jared and the recruiter. I don't necessarily think the average recruiter is going to be able to determine that someone has autism, or even what that means.

The worse part about this story is that even after the parents appealed, there was no apparent willingness to release Jared form the commitment.

But, like Slarti, I wouldn't cast aspersions on the whole recruiting process, even with the other stories you mention.

I do think, though, that the message from the top has to be more of a "Don't" than a "Do" type message.

(Kind of makes me think of Miss Francis) And I am showing my age there.

From what little I know of autism, and from the sound of the story, it should be immediately obvious to anyone talking someone with autism as severe as Jared's that they have some sort of mental, or at least verbal, disorder. I could be wrong, and Jared could appear to be pretty normal, but it sounds pretty unlikely.

Autism isn't all one thing, just as cerebral palsy isn't all one thing. Autism can be slight or profound.

Not back, exactly; just dropping by from time to time. Thanks for the greetings.

Lily, ditto here. My daughter has CP and she's got the heart and spirit of a giant, and the savage competetive spirit of a world-class athlete. I wouldn't think of her as a good footsoldier, though.

I missed Slart, too. Welcome back.

And this:

"During a recent family gathering, a relative asked Jared what he would do if an enemy was shooting at him. Jared ran to his video game console, killed a digital Xbox soldier and announced, 'See. I can do it'"

This looks like a symptom of the exact perverse sort of normalcy the Armed Forces are looking for. Are there non-autistic 18-year-olds recruited by the Army who wouldn't exhibit this precise behavior? I don't think I've yet heard of an 18-year-old recruit who would answer the question this way:

"I'd wet myself, soil my BVDs, and curl up in a fetal position and whimper for Mommy after which I would return home to take up various pathologies like heroin addiction or alcoholism and become a shattered shadow of a human being standing on street corners begging for spare change because the VA budget got cut."

I mean, that's why they recruit the young. They're too stupid yet to know how they can be trained to butcher other human beings as part of a cohesive unit and maybe even grow to find it normal.

The Army can't afford to place Jared in an advanced scout position. Because he's normal, and can't be trained to be abnormal.

He's a pacifist by accident.


What really struck me is the fact that Jared draws a parallel between simulated and real combat. Notice-- he runs immediately to the X-Box video game console when asked how he would deal with enemy fire. This is exactly the sort of parallel that the military *want* potential recruitees to draw--they want them to view real combat as essentially a prolonged visit to the video arcade. And it shows-- at select recruiting events they utilize Engagement Simulator Trainers, which allow potential recruitees to get a feel for what "real" combat is like. Unfortunately, the military is still working on the technology for Field Amputation Simulators and Post-War Trauma Simulators--those couldn't make an appearance at the recruiting events.

This is exactly the sort of parallel that the military *want* potential recruitees to draw

except for the part where you can hit Reset when your guy gets fragged. they'll have to work on getting rid of that one.

DaveC: Improprieties?

I got your improprieties right here.

Thanks. Good story.

John's back, too!

What's missing from this article is an account of how this kid got past the physical. Don't they look at the applicant's medical records? I can understand how a Cpl. Ainsley might not grasp the significance of the word "autistic," but army doctors are med school grads -- they should not have a problem with that concept.

So, it'll be interesting to see, if there is any investigation, whether there was a disconnect between the doc and the recruiters.

Thanks for that link, DaveC. I read Buzzell's blog until TPTB forced him to shut it down.

Also a telling point: from the information in the cited article, the "blame" for signing up a (possibly) blatantly unqualified recruit seems to have been shifted right down the chain-of-command onto the unfortunate Cpl. Ansley: his hindquarters (& job) are on the line: not, apparently, so much for pushing an autistic kid to sign up to enlist: but for letting the story get out to the press.
[snark]
Glad to see our military still has its priorities straight! At least there's one institution that still maintains standards of responsibliity!
[/snark]

Glad to see our military still has its priorities straight! At least there's one institution that still maintains standards of responsibliity!

I think you'll find that this kind of butt-covering and response to motivational pressure is inherent in many different kinds of organizations, both private and public, and this particular incident is probably not typical of the organization in question, IMO. Sad though.

What's missing from this article is an account of how this kid got past the physical. Don't they look at the applicant's medical records? I can understand how a Cpl. Ainsley might not grasp the significance of the word "autistic," but army doctors are med school grads -- they should not have a problem with that concept.
So, it'll be interesting to see, if there is any investigation, whether there was a disconnect between the doc and the recruiters.

Well, this is 25 years ago so it may have changed, but no – no doctors or physicals involved at that point of the process. Dealing with the local recruiter you do some paperwork, take some aptitude tests, and ultimately sign on the dotted line – but that is about it.

When you actually report (Aug 16 as noted here), you go to a regional induction center (in-processing). You spend 2-3 days there, and it is all doctors and tests and exams, and of course more paperwork. It is during this phase that you may wash out for any number of reasons – medical being the most likely cause. Only at the end of this evaluation phase do you actually get shipped to your basic training unit. I have little doubt that the kid would have been sent packing the first day.

Regarding recruiters in general – this is nothing new and should not be interpreted as the Army being desperate for cannon fodder. My recruiter screwed me over (promising me things that never happened, assuring me I would get the MOS I requested, etc. etc.) – there is no one I ever met in the Army who did not feel like their recruiter had screwed them over in some way. More than one person I knew got in trouble because on their first leave home they tracked down their recruiter and literally kicked their butt.

I would say that the issue is that they do know they will have to cull a percentage of recruits – so recruiters goals are set higher than the number of bodies actually needed.

Back to the induction phase and the doctors – I signed on after careful consideration of the specialty I wanted (helicopter mechanic). The docs said I was a little colorblind and therefore disqualified for that specialty. I had to choose another specialty in about 24 ours, out of ones that the Army wanted to fill at the time.

Finally – the kid never would have made it through basic if he had gotten that far. Part of the DI’s job is to ensure that only physically and mentally sound people get through it. They don’t have a pass ratio they have to meet. The good ones (most are) do not want to let any scumbags (not saying this kid is a scumbag – everyone is a scumbag to a DI) through into their Army. They can’t actually discharge you – it’s called DOR (drop on request), meaning you have to request out. They have plenty of ways to insure you do though, singling you out for special attention, or recycling you – meaning you repeat basic training.

In any case, there is no chance whatsoever this kid would have made it to AIT much less a permanent duty station and then Iraq. This is a sexy media story and that is it.

Hilzoy – your final paragraph is over the top in this case.

Finally – the kid never would have made it through basic if he had gotten that far.

20 years ago, sure. But are you so positive that is the case now? Here is a copy of the WSJ article about a kinder gentler boot camp and some clips

The new welcome is a window on the big changes sweeping boot camp, the Army's nine-week basic training. For most of its existence, boot camp was a place where drill sergeants would weed out the weak and turn psychologically soft civilians into hardened soldiers. But the Army, fighting through one of its biggest recruiting droughts, now is shifting tactics. Boot camp -- that iconic American experience -- may never be the same.

Once-feared drill sergeants have been ordered to yell less and mentor more. "Before, our drill sergeants' attitude was 'you better meet my standard or else.' Now it's 'I am going to do all I can to assist you in meeting the Army standard,' " says Command Sgt. Maj. William McDaniel, the senior enlisted soldier here.

New privates are getting more sleep and personal time. Even the way soldiers eat has changed. Drill sergeants long ordered overweight soldiers to stay away from soda and desserts. Today, soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood fill out a survey about their boot-camp experience that asks, among other questions, if they liked the food, whether they were "allowed to eat everything on the menu, including dessert," and whether there was enough for seconds.

Recruits still must meet the same basic standards and pass the same tests for physical fitness and marksmanship to graduate, say Army officials. But more variable criteria that in the past might get a recruit expelled -- such as whether a drill sergeant thinks a recruit has the discipline and moral values to be a soldier -- have been jettisoned. "Now it doesn't matter what the drill sergeant thinks. We work off of the written standard," says Capt. Christopher Meng, who oversees a company of 11 drill sergeants and about 200 recruits at the base.

The new approach is helping the Army graduate more of its recruits. Last month, only 23 recruits failed to make the cut at Fort Leonard Wood's largest basic-training brigade, compared with 183 in January 2004. Army-wide, about 11% of recruits currently flunk out in their first six months of training, down from 18% last May.

I have a lot of respect for the military's difficult situation in finding enough recruits. But the point, OCSteve, is that the parents of an autistic child shouldn't be in the position of shipping their autistic kid off to basic training, relying on the assumption that he won't make it through. Heck, the parents assumed the Army wouldn't ever get past the point of initial contact with him; they were mistaken.

I also understand that the usual paradigm is parents seeking to meddle in the voluntary decisions of their adult child, but still, the system should have been more receptive to their concerns in this case.

Nick -- What really struck me is the fact that Jared draws a parallel between simulated and real combat. Notice-- he runs immediately to the X-Box video game console when asked how he would deal with enemy fire.

I'd venture a guess that the game he ran to get was Full Spectrum Warrior (FSW), which is based on a training aid developed for the US Army's light infantry rifle squad, which is, in part, designed to develop tactical situational awareness rather than the "switchology" of hand-eye coordination.

It's not combat, but it is an application of the principles they teach in infantry training.

The irony of all this is that things like FSW might very well work for training because they stimulate mirror neurons to reinforce previously built neural pathways. And according to a UCSD study, Jared and others with autism may not be able to benefit from this sort of training. He may lack the sort of identification that the military is banking on.

So his answer may be more accurate and tragic than you might first think.

I posted on this from the original article in the Oregonian on Sunday at Running Scared and following was left in the comments section:"As someone who knows the facts and has had personal interaction with Mr. Guinther. I can tell you that if he is indeed autistic he puts on a really good facade. He managed to effectively lie to at least 9 people while processing for the military. He would have had to undergone an security background check along with several other interactions with military and civilian personnel. Both enlisted and officer. And you are telling me that not one person noticed anything different about him? Bull...! This is just Liberal Media at it's worst! They are playing the blame game because mommy and daddy don't want to let their son grow up. What about Jared? How is this affecting his "fragile state of mind?""
As for the medical records, I don't know how it is now but I was drafted in 1968 and the physical lasted about 2 minutes and in order to pass you had to be warm and self propelled.

It's almost as though I hadn't linked to the original article...

"Military rules prohibit enlisting anyone with a mental disorder that interferes with school or employment, unless a recruit can show he or she hasn't required special academic or job accommodations for 12 months.

Jared has been in special education classes since preschool. Through a special program for disabled workers, he has a part-time job scrubbing toilets and dumping trash. (...)

Brenda said she called and asked for Ansley's supervisor and got Sgt. Alejandro Velasco.

She said she begged Velasco to review Jared's medical and school records. Brenda said Velasco declined, asserting that he didn't need any paperwork. Under military rules, recruiters are required to gather all available information about a recruit and fill out a medical screening form."

(Emphasis added)

Shakespeare's Sister's post from yesterday about the article has good comments that also thrash through the issues.

"had to be warm and self-propelled."

Cannon fodder, they used to call it.

Why, if General Patton got hold of this kid, he'd not be a Moe-slap short of a killer.

I have Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning sort of autism. I can tell you that the military would not work well for an autist.

Autism is characterized by the inability or lack of desire to participate in normal human group-bonding behaviors. The Army indoctrination system relies heavily on these normal behaviors to form cohesive units.

Autists just don't form cohesive groups. We're like cats that way. Since he couldn't participate in the bonding experiences, he'd almost certainly be singled out as a victim.

I was also tragically amused to note that he would have been in an anti-armor unit. AFAIK, the insurgency does not field armor.

Jay

OCSteve--

Your missing the major picture here. You argue that-- "I would say that the issue is that they do know they will have to cull a percentage of recruits – so recruiters goals are set higher than the number of bodies actually needed....Finally – the kid never would have made it through basic if he had gotten that far."

He should never have been allowed to enlist for basic training in the first place. The rules state, as hilzoy points out, that ""Military rules prohibit enlisting anyone with a mental disorder that interferes with school or employment, unless a recruit can show he or she hasn't required special academic or job accommodations for 12 months." I would expect that this young man would also not be eligible on other grounds (but that's an assumption).

Furthermore, any recruiter who hopes to fill his ratio with individuals faced with significant mental disorders should be discharged. There is absolutley no reason for it.

I currently have three friends who are serving in Iraq. I could not imagine sending an autistic person to serve as a cavalry scout. Especially, when in the military your life often depends on someone else completing their job. To me, that position would require someone who has the ability to discern, reason, and form a cohesive unit.

this is nothing new and should not be interpreted as the Army being desperate for cannon fodder. My recruiter screwed me over (promising me things that never happened, assuring me I would get the MOS I requested, etc. etc.) – there is no one I ever met in the Army who did not feel like their recruiter had screwed them over in some way.

OCSteve is right about the phenomenon not being new. What is different is the degree to which it's true. The Army, Marines, National Guard, and Reserves are not meeting recruiting targets, and haven't been since sometime last year. So the pressure's on, and it's on recruiters personally. It's bound to lead to more and more serious lapses.

Its not new is some sort of explanation for this?

This is sick, there is no other word for it. At least two military recruiters willfully dismissed the fact that this man is mentally disabled. It is, quite simply, pathetic and makes me perhaps more ashamed than anything yet about this administration and this version of our military. And, yes, I link this directly to the top levels of the military and the administration.

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