Twenty months ago, Pfc. Barbara Pruitt said, she "got tired of being broke" and joined the volunteer Army. But on a recent visit to her home in Cincinnati, the 20-year-old enlistee noted, "I told 10 people not to join."
Pruitt, who is stationed at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland is one of a dozen or so enlisted men and women who talked recently about their life in the Army. Their advice to family members and friends, they said, is: Don't enlist.
Frustrated with what they described as sex discrimination, racism, social isolation, low pay, low morale and uncommunicative officers, several of the recruits contended that while they were "gung-ho Army" during basic training, they will not reenlist when their service commitments are up.
Most said bad experiences at Fort Meade had contributed to their anti-military views. Others said they had been misled by recruiters.
The enlistees - who have spent from 11 months to five years in the Army - said their image of an efficient, action Army has been chipped away by military inefficiency and day-to-day drudgery.
They complained of work assignments that called for such menial tasks as cutting grass, shoveling snow, cleaning rooms or standing in formation.
Blacks complained that there are too few black officers at the base and too few educational opportunities.
At the base, which has roughly 10,000 people, blacks represent 32 percent of the soldiers and 13 percent of the officers said Fort Meade spokesman, Capt. James Meli.
The women complained of job bias and social isolation.
Pfc. Laura Main, 19, of Connecticut, for instance, said she is not doing the work for which she trained.
"I'm an automotive repairman and I work with computer forms and emptying trash," she said.
Several enlistees, mechanics in the 76th Engineers unit, complained about poor military readiness. Many trucks are constantly out of gas, breaking down or waiting for parts that take several months to arrive, they said.
"If we were in a war now, this Army wouldn't get into the war for six months with this equipment," said Pfc. Myles A. Steele, 20, of Rhode Island.
Some recruits, like Pfc. Leo Jones, claimed they were working in jobs they had neither the interest nor the aptitude to handle.
Jones, 21, a native of Raleigh, N.C., is a three-year Army veteran who enlisted "for the educational benefits," he said.
"They promised me a field in drafting engineering," Jones said. Later he learned his training in high school math was not adequate for the course. He was trained to be a mechanic instead.
"A soldier may want to come in and do a particular thing," Meli said. "If, in fact, he's not trained, (he is) going to have to do what (he is) capable of doing.
"What you have is selective listening. They have the good things and not the bad things."
Meli said morale at the base was "relatively good" and equipment "at a combat-ready posture," even though the base is a combat back-up unit and equipment priorities go to first-line combat units.
Meli also questioned whether the enlistees had done more than grumble to themselves.
"I'm sure if all these soldiers talked to their commanders they would get some legitmate answers . . . I know they're very sensitive to the needs of their solidiers," Meli said.
Sgt. Purdy Thames, a five-year Army veteran disagreed. Communication between officers and recruits, Thames said, "is the big problem."
"There's too much book sense and not enough common sense," said Pfc. Stephen Utendahl.
Pfc. Louis L. Simpson, 22, was the only dissenter among the group.
"It's all in your mind," he said of the problems. "If you want to come in and make something of yourself you can do it. I been in here 11 months. So far it's all right."
Main said she couldn't be as easily convinced.
Recently, another soldier broke into her barracks through a window and attempted to rape her. "That bastard tried to kill me, 5 a.m. Mother's Day," said Main.
Main said she received a few cuts and bruises from the attacker, who was carrying a pair of scissors, before the girl next door came to her aide.
An officer in charge of quarter was in the barracks at the time, she said.
Meli said the case is under investigation and a suspect is being held.
Meanwhile screens and barbed wire surround the first-floor windows of the three-story barracks occuppied by Main and a few other women. The women occupy the first floor. Men occupy the top two floors.
After viewing the barbed wire, Meli said, "That's the only place on post like this. I was sort of shocked myself."
He said the unit commander would probably remove the barbed wire, but the women's quarters will remain on the first floor. CAPTION: Picture 1, Pfc. Laura Main, By Doug Chevalier - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Sgt. Purdy Thames; Picture 3, Pfc. Louis L. Simpson.