Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Recruiters, Used Car Salesmen, and Politicians

Why is it that some people get paid to lie? If the politicians did not lie they probably would not be voted into office. It is obvious that if a used car salesmen did not lie, most people would not spend good money on a lemon. I suppose if the recruiters did not lie, there would be a need for a national draft.

While I did talk with the Army and Marine recruiters I could tell I was not cut out to be a soldier or a marine. They pretty much agreed and had no problem directing me across the hall to where the Navy and Air Force recruiters had set up shop as they all shared a common facility.

I went over to see the Navy Recruiter. After some friendly chit chat, he gave me some forms to fill out and I agreed to take a couple of tests. I scored very high on these examinations. My recruiter told me that I could “write my own ticket” if I joined the Navy. I explained that I was only interested in getting into the electronics field to get the experience I needed to compliment the formal training I had received at the junior college.

Little did I know, but these recruiters have quotas to meet and they were trained to spin military life as pleasant as possible. After all, what job could I ever hope for that was willing to offer me 30 days paid vacation a year? Several years later when my division officer tried to convince me to re-enlist he used the same line. My response, tempered by several years of Navy experience was polite but firm: “Sir, the Navy can keep the 30 days of paid vacation and I will choose the 52 unpaid weekends off”.

My recruiter was my liaison to the Navy. He wore the uniform, he told the sea stories, he showed the pictures of foreign ports that held untold pleasures and the promises of schools and state of the art, cutting edge technical training which the government of the USA was eager to provide its sons and daughters. He allowed me to think he personified the military but the truth was he was paid to get me into a van to be screened and processed at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).

The MEPS was located in downtown St Louis. This was a unique experience in and of itself. The first time I went to the MEPS, the recruiter picked me up in the early afternoon and drove me downtown to an old hotel on the river front in downtown St Louis and dropped me off. I was given a voucher for the hotel dining facility and a key to a room that I would have to share with a complete stranger. It was late summer and I remember the St Louis Cardinals had a home game so after dinner I walked over to the ball park and purchased tickets to sit out in the bleachers to watch a ball game.

The next morning I was rudely woke up at 4am and rushed over by military shuttle to an old dark cold building and processed. I was weighed, poked, prodded, squeezed, stuck and gave samples of almost every kind of body fluid I could provide. By 10am, I was brought upstairs to a hot stuffy waiting room where sleeping was forbidden and talking above a whisper was not allowed. There were Navy clerks all over the place pounding type writers and filling manila folders with papers of every size, shape and color.

I guess it was 2 or 3 in the afternoon before I was brought into a small conference room to talk with a ‘career counselor’. Twelve hours of "hurry up and wait" after sleeping 4 hours was taking a psychological toll. The first thing he said to me, “I represent the United States Navy and I will try to fulfill your personal desires but I have specific billet quotas to fill to meet the “needs of the navy”. This was a phrase I would hear repeatedly over the next six years. “Furthermore”, he continued, “I must tell you that anything the recruiter has told you or promised you cannot be guaranteed. Do you understand what I am saying?” I had not even started boot camp and things were not looking so good. I had major league concerns and reservations about what I was doing. I was like a mouse that saw the cheese and figured he was smart enough to get what he wanted without springing the trap. Within the hour, the career counselor convinced me that Navy sonar was 'electrical' in nature and that I would still get the technical training in electronics that I desired. I signed a six year contract with the US government to enter the Navy in just a few short weeks. I would go to San Diego, California for boot camp the last week of September and then Sonar Operator school upon graduation from boot camp sometime around Christmas.

The recruiter that picked me up around 6pm to take me home was not the same recruiter either. I am convinced this was not a mere coincidence. I had many thoughts but did not speak any of them on the long quiet ride back to my mom and dad’s house in rural Jefferson County. My neck was not broke and I was not dead. The cheese was still before me but there was nowhere to go with it but sunny southern California.

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