So you want to join the Army. But you're a litte deaf, too fat, have epilepsy, asthma and kidney problems. And you can barely read or write English, You've robbed a grocery store, and lost your Social Security card and birth certificate.
Any Army recruiter could tell you that any one of these problems would disqualify you for service in the all-volunteer Army.
But don't despair. Recruiters say that in recent years hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of young Americans have joined the Army in spite of such traditional obstacles to enlistment. All entered the service illegally.
Pentagon investigators say that army recruiters have boosted enlistments by telling applicants to lie about illnesses, by purposely checking police records in the wrong cities, by handing out bead bracelets coded to indicate exam answers, and by forging signatures and faking educational and birth records.
Interviews with Charlotte recruiting district sergeants suspended in a national probe of enlistment fraud, and copies of sworn statements given to investigators, show that recruiters have used dozens of tricks to sign up unqualified recruits fraudulently.
Since May, the Army has suspended 165 recruiters, nationwide, including three officers, for alleged cheating. Nine recruiters face court-martial charges.Investigators intend to check the entire recruiting command by Oct. 31.
The Army discharged or separated 707 recruits for fraudulent entry between October 1978 and July 31, according to a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Jeff Cook. The figure doesn't include anyone implicated in the current probe, however.
Investigators have focused on allegations that recruiters illegally coached applicants for parts of a three-hour entrance exam called the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery.
To pass, applicants must answer correctly 26 out of 70 test questions on world knowledge, mathematics and space perception. Recruiters said they often coached applicants with crib sheets and word lists. Nationally, the failure rate is 30 percent.
"Like what's stereo?" one sergeant explained "The kid says, it means radio. You say, no, it means dual speakers. And of course, that'd be on the test."
Recruiters also passed out bracelets with colored beads, another sergeant said. The colors would be lined in an order indicating which of the test's multiple choice answers to check. "Red was a, blue was b, green was c, and so on."
He said "ringers" would sometimes take the test for enlist candidates. "One recruiter was fired when he sent the same guy back the same day to take the test for someone else and they caught him."
Sergeants said recruiters have also held "schooling" sessions for groups of applicants, passed out bootleg test copies for study at home, and sometimes simply changed scores after tests were graded.
A former Charlotte recruiting officer, Maj. Samuel Slaughter, told investigators in a sworn statement that he reported "widespread cheating" in the Southern early this year to superior officers in Charlotte, Atlanta, and recruiting command headquarters at Fort Sheridan, Ill., but no action was taken. The Southeast is the Army's busiest recruiting district.
Until the Army lowered its educational entrance requirements on Oct. 1, recruiters had to verify that an applicant had finished the 10th grade. But many recruiters "called the schools and put down whatever the hell they wanted," one sergeant said.
Recruiters don't have to check applicants' police records unless they admit to having them. "You tell him to just keep cool about his poice record," one sergeant said. Most misdemeanor crimes may be overlooked if a recruiting commander issues a special waiver. But sometimes they are overlooked without the waiver, according to Sgt. 1C Bobby Meadows' sworn statement.
Police records were also concealed in other ways. Army Reserve recruiter Charles Carroway told investigators that recruiters sometimes ran "a police check in a county or town the applicant did not live in."
Applicants who passed the entrance tests still have to get by the doctors at the Pentagon's 67 Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Stations.
"We brief them not to admit any illness or injuries," one sergeant said, "We had a case where a man was recently discharged from a mental institution . . . you tell him to shut his mouth and ship him out."
Lying to get into the military can bring a $10,000 fine and five years in jail, however. And once in, lying can bring loss of pay and allowances, dishonorable discharge and five years at hard labor.
Many recruits apparently cheat anyway. The Army dismissed 3,299 recruits between last October and July 31 for physical problems, including asthma and epliepsy, which existed before entry.
James Elmore was discharged for epilepsy after eight weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., last year. He said his recruiter told him not to mention the disease when he joined.
Overweight applicants slip by too. Army records show Lester Watts, an obese recruit from York, S.C., died at Fort Jackson three days after he was inducted into the Army on June 26, 1978, in violation of Pentagon weight guidelines.