Guard recruit efforts flawed

Report details cutthroat culture to get enlistments

Sun Follow-up

March 16, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN REPORTER

Convincing people to join the Maryland Army National Guard wasn't the issue.

The problem lay in the cutthroat culture in the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, where military discipline and bearing took "a back seat to selling" military service to recruits, according to a critical investigative report released yesterday.

The report, with hundreds of pages of supporting documents, called one unnamed officer in the battalion "a disaster waiting to happen." In another example, the report criticized hyper-competitive recruiters who looked up the criminal records of candidates coveted by their colleagues in the hopes of knocking the potential soldiers out of contention.

"I have found that some recruiters have used this public privilege to gain advantage over their competition, their co-workers," Lt. Col. Marco E. Harris wrote in one of two internal reports.

Last month, the Guard's top general stripped his senior Army recruiter of his command and disciplined 13 additional soldiers after an internal investigation found members of the recruiting battalion misappropriated $40,000 in training funds and, in at least two cases, signed up soldiers who were ineligible to serve.

Days later, the Guard confirmed a separate investigation led to three more recruiters who were disciplined for filing false travel receipts.

"We make no bones about the fact that this was an environment that needed to change," Guard spokesman Col. Robert L. Gould said yesterday.

The Guard provided a redacted version of the report yesterday to The Sun nearly three weeks after the newspaper filed a request under the Maryland Public Information Act. The name of every person mentioned in the report was blacked out, including soldiers who had already been identified publicly by Guard officials and other publications.

Officials said that the accusations of impropriety in recruiting efforts were first raised in December. The Guard launched an internal investigation immediately but found little to substantiate the initial allegations involving the mistreatment of new recruits.

But as more accusations poured in, including fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel, the Guard quickly launched a second investigation. The officer in charge of that investigation - Lt. Col. Drew Sullins - found merit in some of those claims and discovered additional wrongdoing independently.

Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, the head of the Maryland National Guard, wrote an e-mail last month to the roughly 7,000 members explaining the problems and pledging reform.

The violations included soldiers who were supposed to take leave to attend training but instead spent at least part of the time doing something else.

New details in the report released yesterday describe 14 recruiters traveling to Phoenix, Ariz., in April, ostensibly for a marketing seminar.

"The trip was actually a government-funded vacation in the guise of legitimate" training "so the team could recreate in Arizona and attend the Subway 500 NASCAR race," Sullins wrote in his 37-page report.

Eleven recruiters also went to Las Vegas in the same month. During that five-day trip, Sullins found that the Maryland recruiters appeared to spend a total of about three hours watching training conducted by Nevada Guard officials.

"A little training was observed and some questions asked, but no formal training conducted for Maryland by the Nevada" Guard, Sullins wrote.

In a section on fraudulent recruiting, Sullins found that a recruiter paid someone $50 to take an aptitude test and used the score to help a recruit who had taken the same test but failed.

Sullins found another, similar example in which he described how an impostor test-taker served as a "pawn in [the unnamed recruiter's] `enlistments by any means necessary' approach."

Other recruits were pursued improperly because they had significant criminal records, including a potential enlistee who had a conviction for attempted murder.

One unnamed recruiter "demonstrated his primary concern is simply meeting recruiting numbers, and he subordinates that objective to the enlisting of high-quality young men and women," Sullins wrote. "Numbers are important, but not so important that we should be enlisting people of truly questionable character."

A review of the full report yesterday also found examples of wrongdoing that Tuxill and his spokesmen didn't mention last month.

Some 13 officers and senior enlisted officers were regularly allowed to take home government vehicles, a violation of Guard policy, the investigative report concluded. Gould said yesterday the policy has been changed and vehicles taken home by soldiers must be pre-approved on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to removing Maj. Travis Rambert from his post overseeing the 100-member recruiting operation, Tuxill moved to stem the crisis by ordering letters of reprimand for seven others and moved 10 of the 13 soldiers out of the recruiting battalion altogether.

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