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Be All That You Can Fake
Army recruiters in Golden, CO, encouraged a kid named David McSwane to manufacture a high school diploma and escorted him to a head shop to buy a drug detox kit, writes John Aguilar in the Rocky Mountain News:

"I told him not to do it," said his mother, Shelly Hansen. "I thought he might get arrested."

Her son, who had read about military enlistment challenges and had seen recruiters working the grounds of Arvada West, wanted to know "just how far will Army recruiters go to get one more."

McSwane had been inspired by the 1961 book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, who darkened his skin and documented what it was like to live as a black man in the segregated South.

But McSwane had another motivation when he began his investigation in January.

"I wanted to do something cool, go undercover and do something unusual," he said this week.

The premise was simple: McSwane would try to join the Army as a high school dropout with an insatiable fondness for marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms. No matter how stoned and stupid McSwane acted, a pair of recruiters wouldn't wouldn't let him go.

McSwane insisted to the recruiters that he couldn't lick his drug habit, but one recruiter told him to take some "stuff" that would "clean you out." It turned out to be a detoxification kit the recruiter said had worked with other applicants. McSwane said the recruiter even offered to pay half the cost of the kit.

McSwane's claim of being a dropout didn't discourage his recruiters either. He was encouraged to take a high school equivalency diploma exam, which McSwane deliberately failed. That's when he said one recruiter introduced him to the "home-school option."

McSwane was told to order a phony diploma and transcripts from an online diploma mill.

"It can be like Faith Hill Baptist School or something - whatever you choose," one of the recruiters can be heard saying in a taped phone call.

Several days and $200 later, McSwane became a proud graduate of Faith Hill Baptist High School in Longmont.

"I ordered my four years of high school sweat with a few clicks," he later wrote.

But McSwane knew that if his story was going to hold up, he would need proof. So he enlisted his sister, Victoria, to pretend that she was keeping a photo album of her big brother's military accomplishments. She took pictures of McSwane shaking hands with his recruiters.

McSwane convinced a high school friend to operate a video camera across the street from a head shop while one of the recruiters drove him to the store to buy a drug detox kit. He even got his mother to covertly slip him some cash during the episode after the head shop refused to accept her credit card.

Since McSwane didn't wear a wire on most of his visits to the recruiting office, he parlayed his natural forgetfulness as a supposed druggie into an opportunity to tape his recruiters' during phone calls.

"I'm a drug addict, so I acted confused and asked him to explain things over again," he said.

McSwane stopped reporting the story in March when one of the recruiters asked him to strip down for a weigh-in and sign several legally binding documents.

Why are we at war in Iraq? Well, for one thing, because we don't have a draft -- or, for that matter, a draft that the rich young George Bushes of America can't get out of...or a war where women, not just men, are drafted. No, we have a war because the army is disproportionately made up of "other people's kids" -- perhaps, more than we realize, those kids who can't even pass their GED tests.

Posted by aalkon at May 28, 2005 8:22 AM

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Wow!! Mad props to David McSwane for his investigative chutzpah.

It's especially interesting to read this excerpt in light of the recent NYT article you linked to concerning the college dropout phenomenon. So many of the young people I teach (at a large midwestern university with lots of students from working class and not-quite-working class backgrounds) feel that attending college--whether they want to or believe they're ready for it or not--is their only alternative to enlisting in the military.

Many colleges are under so much pressure to increase enrollment (as the surest way nowadays to increase revenue, since state funds are drying up)that they're admitting students who lack the academic background to succeed in college. With tuition costs skyrocketing, many students get screwed twice. I know of one university that recently admitted nearly 90% of those who applied for admission; not coincidentally, only 38% of the students it admitted five years ago have graduated.

Amy's recent comments about her African-American high school classmate are spot on (I went to high school with Da Goddess Herself). The young man she mentioned was (and presumably still is) handsome, friendly, and kind. I last saw him at our senior prom, which he attended with one of the blondest, loveliest, and friendliest girls in our class. She happened to be white. They looked great together.

Posted by: Gregg Heinrichs at May 28, 2005 9:15 AM

Gregg! Great to see you here.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 28, 2005 10:39 AM

PS Regarding that guy, couldn't find a nicer person, huh? Handsome, kind, fun, all-around good-egg.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 28, 2005 10:50 AM

Horse shit! DO you really believe that an arny recruiter, who tend to be "career" army men, would risk his career for ONE recruit. Granted, they do tend to have pressure tactics, but that's only becuase their supeiors impose quottas on them.

As for the "Other people's kids". I joined the military, earned my degree and had to serve in Bosnia....and my family is upper middle class. Some of us just realize that the defense of our nation is more important than whinning about it.

Posted by: Scotty Peloquin at May 28, 2005 11:40 AM

I'm all for defending our nation. I would have been for flattening Afghanistan after 9-11.

So, why are we in Iraq?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 28, 2005 2:44 PM

Moreover, I would venture that there's a little more pressure than when you were in Bosnia, to get some bodies in the ranks.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 28, 2005 2:44 PM

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