My Army Recruiter Never Lied To Me

Army recruiters have forged a dishonest reputation for their actions when they're trying to get potential recruits to sign up, and I will admit that sometimes that reputation is completely justified. Whether they're duplicitous recruiters who are trying to nudge indecisive candidates over the finish line when these potential recruits are trying to decide whether military life is right for them, or if they're overeager recruiters who are simply trying to fulfill their recruiting quotas, it is nevertheless true that some recruiters have no problems bending the truth when it comes to their recruiting tactics.


However, that wasn't my experience when I signed up, so I thought I'd share my story.

To be honest, I hadn't thought about joining the military at first, but my younger brother was joining the Marines, and one day he asked me to drive him across town so he could meet with his recruiter. At the time, the recruiters for all four primary branches of service - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines  - shared a single facility with separate offices. While my brother walked into the Marine recruiter's office, I walked down the hall to the Army recruiter's office - mostly to bide my time - and thus began a process that was to change my life forever.

The first step when joining the military is - obviously - meeting and working with a recruiter. As I mentioned earlier, Army recruiters have a bad reputation for dishonesty - which in many recruits’ situations is totally justified. For example, it was blatantly obvious that some of the recruiters in the Tucson office were lying through their teeth whenever they spoke to me. However, that wasn’t the case for the specific recruiter with whom I worked. My recruiter was always straightforward with me, and I’ll explain why he was being so honest in a moment.

The military has a list of available jobs, called Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs), which have designations like 11B, 19D, 12B. Before I met with a recruiter, I already knew about the 98G "Signal Intelligence Voice Interceptor" MOS from my stepfather, who had done that job for several years and enjoyed it. In a nutshell, being a 98G meant going to the military's language school for several months, then being sent somewhere (hopefully) exotic where you monitored people who spoke the language you just learned. That line of work sounded exciting to me, and when I walked through the door of the Army recruitment office, that was the only job that I wanted. I told my recruiter that I wanted to be a 98G, and I wanted to learn Russian. My recruiter said that he didn't know about selecting a specific language, and he couldn't guarantee any MOS until I took the "ASVAB Test," which I will explain.

The second hurdle for potential recruits when joining the military is taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is a comprehensive test that measures all sorts of things and helps determine what you'll be able or allowed to do, and sometime within the next few days I headed to downtown Tucson to take this test. I had graduated high school a little over a year before, and I hadn't managed to forget anything over the ensuing months. With that in mind, I didn't find the ASVAB particularly difficult, and when one of the recruiters was giving everyone their scores after the test had ended, I was informed that I had scored a 98%, and the recruiter was stunned.

When I drove back to the Army recruiter's office, I was promptly informed that I could have any job I wanted, so the 98G MOS was mine for the taking – at least in theory. My recruiter informed me that there were two additional obstacles in my path: a thorough physical examination, and something called the "DLAB" (which I'll explain in a moment).

At the time of my enlistment, all physical exams for the state of Arizona were conducted at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Phoenix, which was the main entry point for military recruits in the state. My recruiter arranged for me to travel by bus to the MEPS in Phoenix, and the Army put me up in a hotel on the night before my physical. On the following day I passed my physical for the most part, with a nagging medical issue that I needed to resolve before I could report for duty: I was horribly underweight. I had been an anorexic teenager, and I still weighed anywhere between 100 to 105 pounds on any given day. The Army made it clear that I needed to gain a few pounds before I could join.

The next item of the day was specific for the 98G MOS: I had to pass the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) before I could become a military linguist. By way of explanation, the DLAB is an exceedingly difficult and very confusing test, wherein potential recruits are taught a series of artificial languages and submitted to a plethora of linguistic logic questions. The DLAB helps to determine – in theory – how adept potential recruits might be at learning languages. (Believe it or not, I learned some interesting things about languages during the DLAB that helped me later when I attended language school.) Nevertheless, my head was swimming by the time I was done with the DLAB. I thought that there was no way I could have passed that test, yet by no small miracle I did.

Having put both the medical physical and the DLAB behind me, it was time to meet with the recruiters at the Phoenix MEPS. They quickly outlined what my career would look like: Basic Training, Language School, Advanced Individual Training (AIT), then a tour of duty somewhere for my remaining time in service. Because the duration of my academic training would be almost two years, I would be required to sign away four years of my life. However, due to the high demand for my MOS, I had my choice between $32,000 for college when I left the military, or an $8,000 bonus upon completion of my training coupled with $10,000 for college.

The second deal that I was offered sounded good to me, and the recruiters had me fill out a "Dream Sheet" with my list of preferred language choices; I chose Russian, German, and French. However, the recruiters said that they couldn't guarantee that I would get any of my language choices, and I would have to take my chances if I joined. There was one potential pitfall to all this: if I failed out of any of my schools, I would belong to the Army for the duration of my four years, wherein I would have to do whatever job they chose for me.

I said that I needed to go home and discuss everything with my wife, at which point the MEPS recruiters dropped their sales tactics and shifted to outright mocking, with responses such as: "What??? You need your wife's permission to join???" Those guys were schmucks, but I stood my ground, and they eventually pointed me to the door. They made no offer to help me get home, they simply said, "The bus station is a couple blocks away down such-and-such street. Goodbye." To be honest, those jerks were so awful that it was almost a deal breaker for me. But then again, by that point I wanted to join, so I was kind of at their mercy, and I think they knew that.

And, of course, I did join.

When I arrived home and discussed everything that I had learned with my wife, we decided that my enlisting in the Army was really our best option for that season of our lives. I met with my recruiter in Tucson, and I signed up for the Army's "delayed entry" program, which allows recruits to formally join the military to lock in their MOS and the contract that they were offered, and then to report sometime later for duty (which could be up to a year). That being said, my "delay" was only a couple weeks.

And thus it was that on a clear day in the Spring of 1986, my recruiter drove my wife and me to the local MEPS for me to report for active duty. The time was still early, so my recruiter took us to a diner near the MEPS where he bought breakfast for the three of us. While we were eating, I asked my recruiter why he had always been honest with me, and he replied, "I knew that you were going to join from the moment you walked through the door, and I knew that if I didn't shoot straight with you, you'd probably change your mind."

He was right, too. I wanted the job, and I'm sure that he could sense that. However, I had also been a military brat for most of my young life, and I could spot recruiter BS a mile away. If I had thought that I was being deceived, I would have walked out the door and never returned. So my recruiter played it straight with me, and as a result of his honesty I was in Basic Training less than a month after I first entered his office.

In the years that followed, however, I had my life turned upside by incompetent clerks and jerks who incessantly ruined my life by failing to do their jobs correctly, thereby resulting in me being sent to the wrong unit because someone couldn't read my orders correctly, or being underpaid because someone couldn't do basic math, or temporarily losing my security clearance because someone didn't feel like filing the right paperwork at the right time, or having my family members suffer countless hardships as a result of my desire to serve, etc. The ocean of imbeciles whose myriad ineptitudes wreaked havoc on my life again and again will forever hold a place of scorn and contempt that wells up from the depths of my soul whenever I am asked about my time in uniform.

But my recruiter? To this day I have nothing but respect for the guy who helped me join. I'd love to shake his hand and say "thanks."

My Last Day in the Army, Part 2

I recently posted a blog titled "My Last Day in the Army," in which I described my misadventures during my trip to Fort Huachuca on my last day of active duty military service to pick up my final paycheck. However, there is one minor detail that I omitted from my narrative.

In the transition office, where soldiers pick up their final paychecks and take care of dozens of other mundane tasks that must be completed before they exit the military, someone had posted Saxon White Kessinger's semi-famous poem Indispensable Man on the wall. In case you're unfamiliar with it, this is what it says:

Sometime when you're feeling important;
Sometime when your ego's in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You're the best qualified in the room:

Sometime when you feel that your going,
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions,
And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that's remaining,
Is a measure of how much you'll be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you'll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There's no indispensable man.1

In other words, despite many soldiers' years of patriotism, loyalty, diligent work and personal sacrifice, someone in the transition office decided to make it his or her personal mission to let every soldier who passed through the transition office know that they would not be missed, and nothing that they accomplished during their time in service meant anything.

Pardon my language, but the nameless person who posted that poem was an asshole.2


  1. Saxon White Kessinger, "Indispensable Man," in The Nutmegger Poetry Club (1959). (Note that the author originally published this poem under the name Saxon Uberuaga.)
  2. I'm ex-military, and I still believe that occasionally there is no substitute for foul language.

My Last Day in the Army

As I neared my departure date from the Army, I had several weeks of leave remaining, and the Army offers soldiers two options for what to do with any leftover leave: soldiers can sell their unused leave back to the military, which makes for a nicer final paycheck, or they can take "Terminal Leave," which means that soldiers can continue to draw pay while essentially being out of the military. The extra money would have been nice, but I wanted out of the Army so badly that I opted for terminal leave.

In the days before I was to begin my final leave, several family members drove to Fort Huachuca to help my wife and me pack all our things into a moving van and drive to Tucson (where we stayed with family for a few weeks until we found a place to live). After my wife and I cleaned our former house from top to bottom and it passed inspection, we turned in the keys, and we were officially moved out.

When I was filling out my transition paperwork, the Army presented me with two options for receiving my final paycheck: they could mail it to me, or I could drop by the transition center on my last official day of service to pick up my paycheck in person. I had spent 8 years, 1 month, and 18 days in the military, and the one lesson that I learned throughout all my experiences was: if provided the opportunity, the Army will always screw something up. With that in mind, I knew that the Army would probably lose my paycheck if I had them send it to me, so I elected to pick it up in person.

As soon as my transition paperwork was taken care of, I finished clearing the required offices on post and turned in the last of my out-processing items. As far as the Army was concerned, I was gone. I began my terminal leave with nothing left to do except to wait for my honorable discharge to arrive in the mail and pick up my final paycheck.

However, the Army decided that they were making my transition far too easy for me, so they played their last card.

In the early dawn of a sunny day in May of 1994, I donned my Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) for the last time, and I made the 90-minute drive from Tucson to Fort Huachuca to pick up my final paycheck. When I arrived at the transition center, there was a long line of soldiers waiting to see the handful of clerks behind a series of fenced windows. (Imagine waiting in a single-file queue at the DMV, with no seats, and the apathetic or disgruntled civil servants are kept in cages.)

Most of the soldiers waiting in line were fresh out of Basic Training, and they were arriving at Fort Huachuca to begin their Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Because most of these recruits were Privates and I was an NCO, they would snap to attention or parade rest whenever I would walk by. This was endlessly amusing for me, although I had no desire for them to observe such formalities since I was essentially a civilian.

After a 20 to 30-minute wait, I was finally standing at one of the pay windows, and after handing over my ID Card I told the clerk that I was there to pick up my final paycheck. The clerk left to take care of that as I glanced around the tiny room where the service windows were located. There were perhaps a dozen or so new recruits in the queue, and a captain who might have been waiting on his final paycheck.

After a few minutes, the clerk returned and said apologetically, "I'm really sorry, SGT McMurray, but we mailed you your final paycheck." My voice rose significantly as I retorted, "But I told you that I wanted to pick it up in person!" The clerk replied, "I know - it was a mistake, and I'm really sorry." (You'd think I would have seen this coming, right?)

I knew that it wasn't the clerk's fault, but I couldn't resist having the last word. I turned around and faced the room of new recruits as I loudly exclaimed, "This stupid @#$% Army!!! They'll screw you until the last minute!!!" The recruits were visibly terrified by my outburst, and despite being the only person who outranked me, the captain didn't say a word. Having said my peace, I grabbed my BDU cap and ID Card and stormed out of the building.

As I descended the stairs in front of the transition center, I threw my BDU cap like a frisbee to my car (my aim was quite good that day), and I began taking off my BDU top as I walked through the parking lot. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was hoping that someone would attempt to challenge me for being out of uniform on post, but perhaps something in my demeanor let everyone else know that I wasn't in a mood to be trifled with.

As expected, it took nearly a week for my final paycheck to find me, although I’m surprised that the idiots at the Fort Huachuca transition center didn’t try to mail the check to my former address on post (which would have had different occupants by then). However, sometime within the following weeks the following certificate arrived by mail, which meant far more to me than my final paycheck.


The Unfortunate Demise of the Basic Training Shark Attack

Earlier today, one of my fellow veterans shared the following video from Business Insider about the United States Army Infantry School's decision to no longer conduct the unofficial ritual known as the Shark Attack during basic training. By way of definition, the Shark Attack has traditionally been the first experience that new recruits have in Basic Training, when Drill Sergeants descend on raw recruits and scream at them until they begin to understand who's in charge.


Despite CSM Fortenberry's comments in that video, the Shark Attack totally has it's place in today's Army, and the idiots who don't think so are... well, IDIOTS. The purpose of the Shark Attack is to mentally separate recruits from civilian life, and nothing does that better than having a Drill Sergeant screaming in your face. The Shark Attack also instills a sense of fear at the outset of training, which is absolutely necessary for some new recruits to create a foundation for discipline where they'll listen to their Drill Sergeant's orders for the rest of their training. If you take away the Shark Attack, you take away one of the best tools for teaching recruits that their lives - as they knew them - are over. (For the next few weeks, anyway.)

Personally, I hate, hate, HATE the "kindler, gentler Army" approach that today's military leaders are trying to create. Combat is neither "kind" nor "gentle," and taking away the rough edges from military training creates soldiers who are ill-equipped to deal with the mental pressures that soldiers will experience after they leave training. It doesn't matter if new recruits are volunteers or draftees - soldiers need to be tough enough to endure the rigors of combat life, and the Army is doing their soldiers a great injustice if they fail to prepare recruits for their new lives.

Quite frankly, this entire discussion is just one of many ways where the people who are "in charge" of the Army simply do not "get it" with regard to how the actual day-to-day business of the military is conducted.

I'm so glad I got out before this toxic cancer of stupidity infected the Army.

The Army Changes You - In A Good Way

During my time in the Army I learned that I was capable of much greater things than I had ever imagined for myself. It's not so much that I had to slay the doubts of other naysayers in my life, it's that I learned that I could reach that wall where others begin to fail and yet I could keep going. After I left the Army, I have often echoed the message in this t-shirt whenever someone tried to claim, "I could have done that." To which I would always reply, "Then why didn't you?" And of course, the simple truth is that there are many civilians who think they were capable of great and glorious things who would not have even passed the Army's Basic Training. And yet there are scores of other downtrodden souls who quickly learn that they are way more awesome than they ever thought. The Army truly changes lives, and mostly for the better.