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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Terence's Story: A Marine Recruiting Saga

[This is a commentary I almost got to record for NPR's "All Things Considered."  In the end, however, a short-sighted producer killed it because the story couldn't be fact-checked.  I humbly submit that he missed the point.  To borrow a line from A.E. Housman's "Terence, this is stupid stuff," "I tell the tale that I heard told."  That's all.  I have revised the opening and have changed the name--just in case it is indeed true.   --EFP]

As a former enlisted Marine and a retired Marine officer, I am not surprised that the All-volunteer Force has to depend so heavily on the Guard and reserves.  The military has been hard-pressed to meet its recruiting quotas and has been forced to lower its enlistment standards and to offer mercenary-like incentives to get people to sign up in the first place, much less reenlist.  (Would that we had been paid as well in my day!)  It stands to reason that, after years of two inconclusive and increasingly unpopular wars, fewer and fewer people are willing to volunteer. What I am surprised about—and pleasantly so--is that we are not seeing a surge in reports of recruiter misconduct or malfeasance. 
Throughout my career, the two most feared assignments in the Marine Corps, combat duty notwithstanding, were drill instructor and recruiting duty.  Both assignments were fraught with peril—drill instructor duty because of the peer pressure to perpetuate the illegal forms of hazing that made Marine Boot Camp infamous, and recruiting duty because a recruiter’s quota is his or her “mission.”  What this means is that failure to make quota generally resulted in a bad fitness report that could put a period to an otherwise good Marine’s career.  Many a senior noncommissioned officer has put in a hurried leave request upon learning that the interview team charged with selecting D.I.s or recruiters was coming to his or her base. 
            A lot of “sea stories” recounting the horrors of D.I. and recruiting duty live on in popular Marine Corps legend and lore.  But the best one I ever heard probably dates back to that previous 25-year low point--the story of “poor Terence.” 
            Somewhere in a Northeastern city, at a time when we were not even at war, a Marine recruiter was becoming increasingly panicked at the thought that the month was almost up and he had not made his quota.  On that very day, the mother of a developmentally disabled and intellectually challenged young man named “Terence” sent him to the office of some social service agency to buttress their claim for assistance. 
            Unfortunately, the Marine recruiter’s office happened to be on the same floor in the same building as the social service agency Terence was to visit. 
            As I heard the story, Terence’s disabilities were plain to see.  His speech was slurred and limited, and he dragged one foot behind him.  These problems, however, did not deter this hard-pressed recruiter.  That same day, Terence found himself on a bus to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island. 
            The Marine I heard the story from claimed to have been the incredulous series officer, who about a week into the program, was contacted by a social service agency on behalf of Terence’s mother.  When he called the D.I. in whose platoon Terence was listed and asked if he had a recruit fitting his description, the answer was classic:  “Yes sir, Captain, you ought to come down and see this guy.  He’s really weird!” 
            I don’t mean to imply, of course, that abuses of this magnitude happen all the time.  Terence’s story is the extreme, and admittedly, I don’t know how much was true and how much was the sort of exaggeration common to the sea-story genre.  But I don’t doubt that stranger things have happened.  Every one in the Marine Corps is acutely conscious of the fact that, if we don’t have people standing on those yellow footprints painted in front of the Receiving Barracks at Parris Island and San Diego, we won’t have a Marine Corps.  And no one feels that pressure more acutely than the Marines charged with finding the young people to stand on those yellow footprints. 
            I am sure that Army recruiters are just as hard-pressed, and desperate people do sometimes resort to desperate measures.  Hence, should abuses come to light—and there will probably be some—try not to judge the recruiters too harshly.  Most of them, in my experience, would rather be fighting a war than trying to sell it.  
--Edward F. Palm

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