Longform

An Army of Anyone

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"They're doing an investigation on me which is gonna cut off my damn bonus which I worked so goddamn hard to get," he says. "I worked so fucking hard, and you just ruined it. Your little eighteen-year-old ass just fucked me out of it....Grow the fuck up, you little punk."


On March 17, my little eighteen-year-old ass published a story in The Westwind, the Arvada West High School newspaper. Titled "Army Desperation Leads to Recruiting Fraud," the article recounted my journey of deception with a few recruiters.

After seeing how military recruiters at my high school fished for students willing to fight a war, I began to wonder just how far they'd go to get one more finger on the trigger. I decided to find out for myself.

On January 20, 2005, I went to a local recruiting office with the following scenario for James David McSwane: Due to my overwhelming battle with drugs and alcohol, my incompatibility with my peers and my inability to succeed in the classroom, I gave up on my education in the eleventh grade. Although I'd dropped out of high school, I was an efficient thinker and problem-solver. I worked hard and liked to exercise. And despite my drug addiction and lack of a diploma, I aspired to serve my country and become a part of the proud legacy that is the United States Army. Now, what could the U.S. Army do for me?

I gave my spiel to a recruiter, Sergeant First Class Eric Mulero. To my surprise, he showed no interest in my addiction, saying simply, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

He was adamant, however, that I set up an appointment with a GED testing facility. He said that a GED and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery were the only obstacles on my way to enlistment. But then he checked my height and weight, and said that at 6 feet 2 inches tall and 210 pounds, my body composition was not up to par with Army regulations. In order to join, I'd need to lose ten pounds and an inch off my waist.

Mulero called my house the next week. I told him I was wasting his time, because I could not stop using drugs. He should have told me that I could not join the Army with a drug addiction; instead, he said he had a solution. He would take me to this "place" to get this "stuff" that would "clean you out," and offered to pay for half the cost. What was this "stuff"? A type of detoxification drink that I could take the morning of the physical exam, he explained, and if I followed his instructions precisely, I would pass my urine test. It was no big deal, he said; he'd used it three or four times before.

On February 3, Mulero called to tell me that I'd "freakin' smoked" the ASVAB with a score of 88 out of 99 -- so he was taken aback when I told him I'd failed my GED exam two days earlier.

Two weeks later, I called Mulero and told him that I could not pass the GED because of my test anxiety. The reason I'd done so well on the ASVAB, I said, was because it tested more practical skills, such as mechanics, shapes, electricity concepts and basic grammar, while the GED assessment had graphs and a writing section. Mulero should have told me that I could not get into the military without a diploma or GED; instead, he said there was the "home-school option."

He should have called it the "no-school option." A short time later, Mulero called from outside the recruiting office and explained how I could go online and forge a phony diploma, as well as fabricate a high-school transcript. He told me to use the name of a fictitious school that he'd created, "Faith Hill Baptist School."

A few clicks and $200 later, I was a graduate of Faith Hill Baptist High School. When I submitted the phony documents to Mulero, he said they looked great. He just needed to have them approved by his battalion commander.

But then Mulero was reassigned to Germany, and my enlistment packet was handed off to Sergeant Tim Pickel.

In my first conversation with Pickel, I told him that my diploma and transcripts were fakes and that I had a drug addiction. No problem, he said. On March 20 -- after my first Westwind piece appeared -- Pickel drove me to Pipeline, a local tobacco shop, to purchase the "black magic" detoxification kit. A friend filmed us from across the street.

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane