Friday, November 2, 2007

Jarheads are Really Lowering Standards

Marine recruiters busted in exam fraud
Stand-ins took test required of 15 marginal enlistees

Nine Marine Corps recruiters who worked in the Houston area were punished for using fraudulent stand-ins to take military-entrance exams for prospective recruits who might not otherwise measure up, the military confirmed Wednesday.

Eight of the recruiters were reassigned and given non-judicial punishment, which could include fines and reduction in rank. Another, considered the worst offender, was discharged from the service.

"I don't know why this happened here. Obviously, we do not tolerate it," said Capt. John Niemann, a spokesman for the recruiting district that includes Houston. "We learned of it. We investigated it and took appropriate disciplinary action."

Niemann said privacy regulations prohibit him from releasing the names of the recruiters, what punishments they were given or when.

"The bottom line is that it is all cleaned up," he said.

Word of the scandal comes as recruiters are under continued pressure to find people willing to join the military in a time of war.

Although officials are unsure how widespread the practice was or where the recruiters learned of the technique, the fraud was traced to 15 incidents.

Recruits who had the test taken on their behalf faced a range of repercussions, from being kicked out of the service, to being given a chance to take the exam, to in at least one instance, being able to continue on the job. Officials declined to say who the test takers were.

Four of the recruiters were based in Memorial City, one in Lake Jackson, one in Baybrook and two in Houston, according to the Marine Corps.

Tim Hanley, 60, a Vietnam War veteran and president of the Houston chapter of the 1st Marine Division Association, a nationwide veterans' group, said he is worried how this might reflect on the Corps.

"As a Marine, this is really quite disturbing to me. I guess they have bean counters in every profession now — that is a shame," he said of the pressure to meet recruiting quotas.

"You have got to want to be a Marine and meet the standards," he said. "Not everybody can be a Marine. If they could, we wouldn't be so proud to be one."

Harold Hyman, a Rice University professor emeritus of history and a Marine in World War II, said he felt pity for recruiters who broke the law in a desperate race to meet quotas because of the Iraq war. He noted that recruiters have been known for generations to go to great lengths to sign anyone up.

Probe began in April

Although the scam was made public Wednesday in response to a Houston Chronicle inquiry, evidence of wrongdoing began quietly unfolding last April when officials at the Military Entrance Processing Station, located downtown, noticed that signatures of test takers didn't match those on enlistment forms, Niemann said.

It is not clear how long it had been going on, he said.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a lengthy test of aptitudes used to place recruits in military jobs to which they are best suited. It's the military version of the SAT.

Results could determine whether a person meets a minimum threshold to enter the service, as well as whether they may end up marching and firing a weapon or sitting behind a desk.

Maj. Wesley Hayes, of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command headquarters in Virginia, said the test is a basic hurdle.

"It is a requirement if you go into the Marine Corps," said Hayes, who added that about 35,600 people entered the Marine Corps the last fiscal year, just surpassing the Corps' goal for recruitment.

Jack Hirschfield, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican who represents portions of western Harris County, said he believed the scandal was not widespread.

"We see this as a few bad apples and absolutely not representative of the Corps and the tens of thousands of brave men and women on the front lines trying to fight for freedom and security in Iraq and Afghani-stan," he said. "We do not, under any circumstances, believe this is a practice that reaches beyond the nine; this is not what the Marine Corps is about, stands for or represents — we know that and believe it strongly."

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