It's been five years since an investigative report that I wrote for my high school newspaper sent shock waves all the way to the Pentagon. For me, the bomb rush of media and interviews feels like a lifetime ago -- and generally, that's where I like to keep it.
But if you watched last night's report about unscrupulous Army recruiters on Channel 4, you might have noticed a reference to the 2005 undercover investigation that I wrote about for Westword under the headline "An Army of Anyone." Also on view was a
pathetically frightened devilishly handsome seventeen-year old explaining how his recruiter taught him to create a fake high school diploma and to beat a drug test to enlist -- yours truly.
Rick Sallinger reported last night from the very same recruiting office in Golden where most of my high school undercover sting took place. In the end, 38 recruiters from the region are suspected of breaking rules to get more enlistees.
With leaked documents, Sallinger found that ten percent of the region's recruiters were breaking rules to fill the ranks -- a story that naturally rang bells in the Channel 4 newsroom. But the play on the report was small in comparison to the story that found the same thing was happening five years ago.
I wrote the very first story, "Army Desperation Leads to Recruiting Fraud," for my underfunded school newspaper, The Arvada West Westwind. Surprisingly, my findings that Army recruiters were teaching potential recruits to lie and cheat to enlist made a much bigger splash than any high school kid could imagine.
After Sallinger caught wind of the story circa March 2005 and beefed it up for television, it went viral. In a matter of days, everyone from CNN to the New York Times to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News was asking my mother for permission to interview me. No joke: my mother.
In a nutshell, reports of what they coined "recruiting improprieties" were cropping up
across the country. At the onset of much fresher wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the story became a public relations nightmare for the Army. Amid harsh criticisms, Army brass called for a nationwide recruiting Stand Down Day to review recruiting tactics.
Soon after, I hooked up with Westword to write "Army of Anyone." Since I was still a minor at the time, my mother, Shelly -- who was killed in a motorcycle accident in December 2008 (she was my harshest critic and greatest fan) -- insisted on coming along on the story pitch to editor Patty Calhoun. It was the single most embarrassing moment of my life.
But eventually, I was hired on at Channel 4 and, later, Westword, so I can't complain. Here's a look at the original Channel 4 production, which earned a prestigious Peabody Award (I think mine is packed away in an old suitcase). And please remember, I was seventeen.
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Below that, find the U.S. Army release. Note that the number of recruiters under investigation, 48, differs from the number mentioned in the new Channel 4 report linked above.
Army Recruiting Command Investigating Recruiters in Denver area
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- The U.S. Army Recruiting Command is continuing an investigation into allegations of fraudulent enlistment documents that began January 14, 2010.
At that time, 48 recruiters had their military records flagged pending conclusion of the investigation. The investigation continues, and the innocence or guilt of these Soldiers has not been determined.
While they are flagged, these Soldiers are performing recruiting duties, but are barred from receiving awards or promotions until the flag is lifted. Since this is an ongoing investigation, it is possible that additional recruiters may be suspended, if warranted. The current investigation was initiated following allegations of falsified education documents within the Denver area. U.S. Army Recruiting Command is investigating the allegations, and will take appropriate actions based on the results.
There are more than 8,300 Soldiers recruiting throughout the United States. Despite these allegations of improprieties, Soldiers continue to recruit with integrity, and uphold Army Values. The Army will provide further details upon the completion of this investigation.