Army signs up autistic teen

This story is really pissing me off.

Diagnosed with autism at age 3, Jared is polite but won't talk to people unless they address him first. It's hard for him to make friends. He lives in his own private world.

Jared didn't know there was a war raging in Iraq until his parents told him last fall -- shortly after a military recruiter stopped him outside a Southeast Portland strip mall and complimented him on his black Converse All Stars.

"When Jared first started talking about joining the Army, I thought, 'Well, that isn't going to happen,' " said Paul Guinther, Jared's father. "I told my wife not to worry about it. They're not going to take anybody in the service who's autistic."

But they did. Last month, Jared came home with papers showing that he not only had enlisted, but also had signed up for the Army's most dangerous job: cavalry scout. He is scheduled to leave for basic training Aug. 16.

Officials are now investigating whether recruiters at the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Southeast Portland improperly concealed Jared's disability, which should have made him ineligible for service.

…Last fall, Jared began talking about joining the military after a recruiter stopped him on his way home from school and offered a $4,000 signing bonus, $67,000 for college and more buddies than he could count.

…After learning that Jared had cleared this first hurdle toward enlistment, Brenda said, she called and asked for Ansley's supervisor and got Sgt. Alejandro Velasco.

She said she begged Velasco to review Jared's medical and school records. Brenda said Velasco declined, asserting that he didn't need any paperwork. Under military rules, recruiters are required to gather all available information about a recruit and fill out a medical screening form.

"He was real cocky and he says, 'Well, Jared's an 18-year-old man. He doesn't need his mommy to make his decisions for him.' "

…When they asked Jared how long he would be in the Army, he said he didn't know. His enlistment papers show it's just over four years. Jared also was disappointed to learn that he wouldn't be paid the $4,000 signing bonus until after basic training.

During a recent family gathering, a relative asked Jared what he would do if an enemy was shooting at him. Jared ran to his video game console and killed a digital Xbox soldier and announced, "See! I can do it!"
Now, I happen to be close to a young man with autism, who I believe, based on this article, may be higher functioning than Jared, but he, too, would be easily persuaded by someone who preyed on him with the promise of money and “more buddies than he could count,” especially if that money and those buddies also came with the irresistible lure of proving that he could succeed at something not everyone chooses to do, to which not everyone is suited. I can imagine that his idea of soldiers is that they are tough guys, important guys, and that a military recruiter who wanted to sign him up was not a desperate man eager to fill a quota, but someone who personally chose him because he saw in him the unique mettle it takes to be a good soldier. It might be extremely difficult to convince him that he wasn’t chosen because he looked like a great candidate, but because he was vulnerable. Even if he came to understand it, it would hurt him deeply.

No good can come of this for Jared. If his parents aren’t successful in having his enlistment overturned, he will be sent to Iraq on a dangerous tour of duty for which he is wholly unprepared. If they are successful, he may never quite understand why they withheld the opportunity from him, since his video game acuity proves, to him, that he can “do it.”

Cpl. Ansley, the recruiting officer, has shown up at the Guinthers’ house, telling them “he would probably lose his job and face dishonorable discharge unless they could stop the newspaper's story.” He certainly deserves no less for exploiting Jared and who knows how many others like him.

The hat tip goes to Fixer, who notes: “If our recruiters are this desperate (not taking anything away from Jared, who seems to be a good young man), there is something seriously wrong with the military. We have to get these idiots out before it becomes FUBAR.” It’s a good point. I’m so angry about Jared being manipulated, I’ve barely stopped to think what it means that our military is willing to put a kid who “was scared to death of the toilet flushing, the lawn mower” on the front lines. Good lord.

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