Counter-Recruiting Efforts Anger Pentagon

The New York Times highlights a growing trend: protests at military recruiting offices, including by veterans.

A Veteran’s Iraq Message Upsets Army Recruiters

Photo: Scott Cameron, a wounded Vietnam veteran, with his sign noting the numbers of Americans killed or wounded in Iraq. As those thinking of becoming soldiers arrive on the slushy doorstep of the Army recruiting station [in Duluth, Minnesota], they cannot miss the message posted in bold black letters on the storefront right next door. “Remember the Fallen Heroes,” the sign reads, and then it ticks off numbers – the number of American troops killed in Iraq, the number wounded, the number of days gone by since this war began. The sign, put up by a former soldier, has stirred intense, though always polite, debate in this city along the edge of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota. In a way, many of the nation’s vast and complicated arguments about war are playing out on a single block here, around a simple piece of wood.

The seven military recruiters here, six of whom have themselves served in Iraq, want the sign taken away. “It’s disheartening,” Staff Sgt. Gary J. Capan, the station’s commander, said. “Everyone knows that people are dying in Iraq, but to walk past this on the way to work every day is too much.” But Scott Cameron, a local man who was wounded in the Vietnam War, says his sign should remain. Mr. Cameron volunteers for a candidate for governor of Minnesota whose campaign opened a storefront office next door to the recruiting station, and he has permission to post the message he describes as “not antiwar, but pro-veteran.” “We’re still taking casualties from Vietnam, years later,” Mr. Cameron said recently. “Is the same thing going to happen again?” Despite the location, he insists that his purpose is not to prevent new recruits from signing up for the Army, but to honor those who made sacrifices. Still, Mr. Cameron also says, “Before they join the military, people better know what they’re getting into.”

Clashes like this are emerging elsewhere, too, even as the Army wrestles with the challenge of recruiting during a war, a struggle that left it 8 percent shy of its goal to bring in 80,000 new active-duty soldiers in the most recent recruiting year.
Some of the conflicts are part of a growing number of planned “counterrecruiting” efforts by antiwar groups, parents and individuals. They have fought to prevent recruiters from getting access to students’ contact information from schools or have set up their own booths near recruiters’ at job fairs to tell potential recruits why they should not sign up. At George Mason University in Virginia, an Air Force veteran was arrested this fall while standing near a recruitment table on campus, wearing a sign that said “recruiters lie.” At Kent State University in Ohio, a former marine climbed a recruiter’s rock-climbing display in October and unfurled a peace banner.

But some of the debates, like the one here, have played out far more quietly, seeming less staged, more ambiguous and more like the natural edges of the country’s debate over war seeping out on their own.

While both forms of speech are protected and even desirable, the first is simply of a different stripe than the second. Cameron’s effort is noble and well-intentioned, whereas the efforts aimed at disrupting the speech of military recruiters are more unseemly.

Cameron is right: People die in wars and there’s a war going on. Reminding people, especially youngsters thinking about joining a volunteer military, of those facts is not at all a bad thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ralph says:

    As can remember, as a young Coast Guard brat in the 1960s, seeing similar tally signs, including one at the gatehouse to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut — except the tally was of killed and injured on American highways. To this day, motor vehicle collision is the number one cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 35. More than 40,000 American lives lost — men, women, and children — each year. That just about 770 a week, 110 a day — all in vain.

    Pro-rated to Iraq, with a population about 1/6 of the U.S., that would be about 128 a week, or about 18 per day. I haven’t enough data to complete the illustration, but it’s close to say that since the end of major military operations in Iraq, an Iraqi might be less likely to die from a combat action in Iraq than an American from a collision on an American highway.

    So where’s the outrage? And why aren’t there traffic fatality tally signs outside every motor vehicle department and car dealership in the U.S., so, “Before they get into a car, people better know what they’re getting into?”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Ralph: I haven’t done the math but, surely, an American soldier is more likely to die in Iraq than doing whatever non-military job he’d otherwise engage in domestically.

    As to signs outside car dealerships, people are free to put them up if they like. People view driving as a necessary risk whereas war opponents view this one as “optional.”

    Of course, reminding people of “what they’re getting into” before they get behind the wheel might be a good thing, indeed. Too many–myself sometimes included–drive with our minds on the radio, our day at the office, or the person on the other end of the cell phone than on the very real dangers of the highway.

  3. LJD says:

    “…than doing whatever non-military job he’d otherwise engage in domestically.”

    Like what? Do we presume that they would have a non-military job if not in Iraq? These are soldiers we’re talking about.

    Exiting Iraq does not equate to no longer being in the military- an inherently dangerous job. How many firefighters, police, or high rise construction workers have died in the last year? I think it’s only fair to note that 22% of Iraq casualties are NOT combat-related.

    Incidentally, if Iraqi freedom is not a venture worth sacrificing American lives for, how about McDonalds and Nintendo? How many died last year due to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles?

  4. ken says:

    There is a special place in hell reserved for recruiters who lie to young people in order to get them to sign a contract that binds them regardless of the malfeasence of the recruiters. There is nothing that makes me madder than having representatives of my government lie to young folks this way.

    To have someone arrested while pointing out that recruiters do indeed lie is disgusting. Suppressing free speach is not one of our American value that those recruiters are trying to get people to potentially sacrifice their lives to defend.

  5. James Joyner says:

    LJD: The sign is outside a recruiting office. It’s aimed at non-soldiers thinking about becoming soldiers.

  6. LJD says:

    Whoa- Who’s talking about lying here? If a recruit doesn’t see the news, and has no idea what’s going on in Iraq, they likely are too stupid to qualify for enlistment. By the same token, if they can’t understand and carefully read a legally binding contract (perhaps asking questions of a non-partisan source) before they enter it, and after they are briefed about it at MEPS, then shame on them.

    On non-soldier employment, what other employer is obligated, or even obliged, to publish fatalities by their chosen line of work? Commercial Divers? Coal miners? Demolition contractors?

    I agree that the Veteran is entitled to his free speech. Consider that his right only reaches until it becomes harassment. Would you feel the same if it were a protest against a private business owner?

  7. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘if they can’t understand and carefully read a legally binding contract (perhaps asking questions of a non-partisan source) before they enter it, and after they are briefed about it at MEPS, then shame on them.’

    More like, after they’re enlisted and then they realize they actually have to follow orders and put their lives at risk then they can always claim they were lied to. Another variation of their choices being somebody elses fault.

  8. Herb says:


    I don’t know why you get so mad at recruiters, you never seen the inside of a recruiters office and never talked to a recruiter, In fact, you never served a single hour in the service of your country and never had any intention of serving. You have always prefered to let “someone else do your fighting for you” while you sit back on your unpatrotic rear end.

    Ken, You of all people “Just don’t have a case” with this one.

  9. Anderson says:

    LJD: Whoa- Who’s talking about lying here? If a recruit doesn’t see the news, and has no idea what’s going on in Iraq, they likely are too stupid to qualify for enlistment.

    Not so fast, LJD:

    Army Secretary Noel Harvey and vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody said Monday that the Army was using looser Defense Department rules that permitted it to sign up more high school dropouts and people who score lower on mental-qualification tests, but they denied that this meant it was lowering standards.

    Leaving aside the consequences for the armed forces, what kind of pitiful flack argues that this isn’t “lowering standards”? I mean, hell, maybe standards need to be lowered, but why lie about it?

  10. ken says:

    By the same token, if they can’t understand and carefully read a legally binding contract (perhaps asking questions of a non-partisan source) before they enter it, and after they are briefed about it at MEPS, then shame on them.

    LDC, since it is my government on one side of that contract and on the other side are the people who sign it and therby are sworn to defend my and your freedoms it ought not to be the kind of contract one needs to get a lawyer to understand.

    I expect recruiters to have more integrity than a used car salesmen when they act in my name. This is not a situation where ‘buyer beware’ should have to apply.

  11. LJD says:

    It’s not lowering standards, and it’s not lying (which was what we were talking about). If you do your homework, you’ll find that the Army has long exceeded the requirements of the DOD. Your “lowering of standards” is simply allowing candidates that were unqualified by the previous, but are still within tolerance.

    It did make for a great story to feed the left-wing “recruiting-shortage-becasue everybody-hates-Iraq-and-theres-gonna-be-a-draft” HYPE, though.

    Ken, what the hell are you talking about? Either it’s a contract, or it isn’t. You don;t get to change your mind based on the current situation. First, you’re talking about something you’ve demonstrated absolutely no experience with. Second, it does not take a lawyer to read the part of the contract where it says (in lay terms) “If anything happens and we need you, youor ass is ours, regardless.”

    I totally agree with ICallMAsISeeM that there are a bunch of whiners who changed their mind because (somehow) they didn’t equate joining the military with actually BEING in the military.

  12. Anderson says:


    It’s not lowering standards, and it’s not lying (which was what we were talking about). If you do your homework, you’ll find that the Army has long exceeded the requirements of the DOD. Your “lowering of standards” is simply allowing candidates that were unqualified by the previous, but are still within tolerance.

    “The previous” what? A word seems to be missing. Would that be “standards”?

    Like I said, if they need to lower the standards, fine, but “allowing candidates who were previously unqualified” is “lowering standards” in every dictionary that I possess.

    Must *everything* this administration says & does be defended to the last ditch?

  13. ken says:

    LDC, sorry but I often times forget who people are around here and think they are more informed than they really are.

    I was referring to the commonly known fact that recruiters often lie to get people to enlist. This was widely reported and was admitted to by recruiters.

    The above article tells about a fellow who was arrested for holding up a sign that said recruiters lie.

    Now that you know the facts I am sure you will agree with me that lying to a recruit in order to meet quota is beneath contempt.

  14. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘I was referring to the commonly known fact that recruiters often lie to get people to enlist.’

    You have a lot of problems with language comprehension.

    ‘the commonly known fact ‘

    Accusations aren’t facts.

    ‘recruiters often lie ‘

    Again, can you prove this? Other than accusations from AWOL soldiers and sailors and your own paranoid delusions do you have any proof? What is often?

  15. Boyd says:

    I can’t speak about all recruiters, because I only dealt with the one who shepherded me through the enlistment process. At any rate, it seemed to me that any inaccuracies that spouted from his lips were either 1) understandable exaggerations (c’mon, wouldn’t you try to attract an 18-year-old kid with “all the trim you can stand when your ship pulls into port!” ?), but were generally supported by reality, or 2) things he didn’t understand himself.

    But on the important stuff, he never tried to mislead me to get me to do something I wouldn’t have done with full knowledge.

    The reality is, yes, some recruiters lie to get recruits to do certain things. But from my experience, when they’re discovered, they’re disciplined at a level commensurate with the degree of deceit involved in the lie.

  16. ken says:

    Here is a story from Fox News about recruiters lying:

    Former Lt. Carl Nyberg, who investigated recruiting abuses in Chicago, says: “The corruption is so thoroughly institutionalized in recruiting, it would take congressional hearings just to make a dent in cleaning things up.”

    This story aired in 1999. Since then lying and deceit has only gotten worse. Do a google search and you will find plenty of evidence of the problem.

    Instead of trying to defend this practice you should condemn it.

  17. Herb says:


    Talking about recruiters. you said ” When they act in my name”. No recruiter would ever act in your name, they prefer to act as an American.

    First Ken, A recruiter is a solder that has proved himself, You surely have not.

    Second, A recruiter is one of our brave solders who puts himself in harms way, You surely wouldn’t do that

    Thirs, A recruiter is not a COWARD, Like you have demonstrated many times.

    No Ken, you couldn’t hold a candle to a recruiter or any solder for that matter.

    You wouldn’t serve you country for any reason, because Ken, you are a COWARD.

  18. Anderson says:

    Herb to Ken: You wouldn’t serve you country for any reason, because Ken, you are a COWARD.

    If I may venture an unsolicited opinion, I don’t think these ignorant personal attacks do very much for the quality of this blog. Not that Ken can’t take care of himself, but does anyone here enjoy reading that kind of thing?

    Some basic etiquette wouldn’t hurt.

  19. Herb says:

    Jeez Anderson:

    Just about the time I thought you had gotten off your hate Bush kick, you start to defend some one like Ken, who also hates Bush. But then again you two have a lot in common.

    I call it like I see it Anderson and if that is not up to your upper crust know it all standards, then Don’t Read It. As far as this Blog goes Amderson, You have used words with implications that are a hell of a lot worse than I have used.
    Ijust say what I think and the last I heard, thats is in accordance with our Constitution that you so riggorously defend. Or, do you now just pick and choose what part or our founding fathers document that appeal to you and meet with your legal insight and way of thinking.

  20. anjin-san says:

    I guess arresting vets who protest at recruting sites is another part of the “freedom for Iraq, not America” campaign the Bushites are waging.

    The more I see our country moving twoards police state tatics (and hear cheering from the “security first” faction!) the more I am convinced we are losing the wot. Not losing in a string of engagements on a battlefield, but losing what is was that made America special…

  21. LJD says:

    Um no, Anderson. The standard was never changed. It remained the same. When there was a large pool of recruits, the Army chose to be more selective. They are still meeting the DOD directed standard. Saying we “lowered standards” is nothing more than an anti-war sound bite.

    Ken. Ken. Ken. Saying that recruiters often lie is your assumption, not a fact or generally accepted principle. I do think it reprehensible, if one were to outright lie to get a recruit. However, as I mentioned before, a candidate is briefed by a legal counselor at MEPS to ensure they know what they’re doing. Of course, you don’t know what the hell MEPS is, because you have no experience in this area. The original post was a sign about Iraq in front of a recruiting office, not lying. Try to stay on subject.

    Anjin- you are also not on the subject. Arresting Vets, or anyone else who breaks the law, is called ENFORCING the law. nothing more.

  22. ICallMasICM says:

    Sorry but did you actually read the link you posted? Again the people interviewed were trying to reneg on their committment and then made unsubstantiated claims that they were intimidated and lied to. Agreeing to delayed entry and then changing their minds, which is exactly what I did, they claimed they thought they were already enlisted, which is ludicrous. After I was offered an athletic scholarship I contacted the Army recruiting office and told them I wasn’t enlisting and after the phone call never heard another word from them.

    ‘Instead of trying to defend this practice you should condemn it.’

    I’m not defending anything but you really should try to come up with something other than unsubstantiated claims by enlistees that in the words of your article ‘had a change of heart’ and AWOL sailors.

  23. Anderson says:

    LJD, let’s say that by “standards” you mean some sort of regulatory rock-bottom beneath which the Army may not stoop–no quadriplegics, I assume, or people who curl up in a fetal position & drool all day.

    And that you have in mind some “criteria” higher than those rock-bottom standards, which the Army sometimes has the luxury of imposing.

    Okay, so you’re saying that they haven’t lowered their standards, just their criteria, as those are defined above? Is that a fair statement of what you mean?

    I think that the guy on the street (like me) would take “standards” and “criteria” to be largely synonymous, not being indoctrinated into the mysteries of recruitment. But if you do mean something like what I’ve said, then okay, the Army flack wasn’t “lying.” (Misleading, I would say, but this is already a long thread.)

  24. LJD says:

    Semantics aside, arguing the definitive meaning of official terminology in lay terms is pointless. What “standards” means to you and what it means to the Army are two different things.

    So backing away from your tangent (I had to backtrack to remember what your original post was about), your point was that the Army is accepting people too stupid to understand the contract they signed, even with all the negatives in the media, and at school, and the counseling provided by the military, and the input of friends & relatives, and this guy with his sign posted out front…

    …and the “Lie” being much like a John Kerry-esque definition (if he knew now what he didn’t know then), that if you interpret “standards” to be “x” and the Army defines them a “y”, then you might feel lied to after you decide you no longer want to be in the military?

    Was that the point you were trying to make, or was there something else?

  25. H.A. Clark says:

    Hooray for Scott Cameron. This is what we Americans need — to be reminded daily of the human price of Bush’s “war”.

  26. Dan says:

    O.K.,the sign is freedom of speech. Leave it. But the recruting office ought to make their own sign.It would show the number of people who benefited from and who are currently benefiting from a career in the military. (scholarships,travel,free living expenses,etsc.) Then, it would show the number of non-Americans who have benefited from the US military saving their asses from tyrany. (Eruope X 2, Asia, Middle East, etc.) Then finally, it would show the number of many non-military Americans who have benefited from our military. (That would include damn near all of us.) Hell, they ought to just put a globe next to the sign and say “this is yours because of the suffering we do.” You liberals can’t see the big picture with your narrow vision. It’s not even worth arguing with fools.