Army Recruitment of Autistic Teen Raises Questions

May 12, 2006 — -- The Army's recruitment of an autistic teen has once again put the spotlight on the pressures recruiters face in trying to get new volunteers in a time of war.

Earlier this week, 18-year-old Jared Guinther from Portland, Ore., was released from his four-year military committment after The Oregonian newspaper reported that he should not have been enlisted, given his medical condition. He was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

Guinther signed up to be a cavalry scout, one of the Army's more dangerous assignments.

The two Army recruiters involved in Guinther's enlistment are now being investigated for potential recruiting improprieties.

"We're all under pressure to perform. But even under that pressure we have to do the job on a daily basis with complete integriy and total professionalism," says Gary Stoffer, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Battalion based in Portland. "There's no pressure to bend the rules and there's no excuse for that."

Guinther's case first came to the attention of military officials after an Oregonian reporter contacted them with information that the recruiters refused to accept Guinther's medical records, after the family complained to them about his recruitment.

Despite being autistic, Guinther scored higher than the minimum needed for the Army's basic entrance exam and passed a physical with an Army doctor.

Gaylan Johnson, a spokesman for the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, says the doctors conducting the physicals depend on recruits' honest self-disclosure of any medical conditions.

Johnson compared it to a recruit with a heart murmur. "An individual may or may not be aware of his condition, but since they're intermittent and not on every heartbeat, when the stethoscope is on the chest the doctor doesn't know any different," he said.

Trying to Make Up for Shortfalls

Records provided by Army Recruiting Command show that last year the Army received 835 complaints of recruiting impropriety. Thirty-five percent of those complaints involved the concealment of medical information, but after subsequent investigation, only 10 percent of the allegations were substantiated.

Of the 835 complaints last year, 126 were found to be recruiting improprieties, the remainder involved recruiting errors. As a result, 44 recruiters were relieved from duty and an additional 369 recruiters received admonishments, even if they'd unknowingly made mistakes or errors in the recruiting process.

Army recruiters are under increased pressure to make up for last year's recruiting shortfall. Montly shortfalls resulted in the Army missing its annual goal of 80,000 new recruits for the first time since 1999.

And while the Army is optimistic it will meet this year's goal, an analysis of monthly recruiting goals shows the Army's toughest challenge lies ahead this summer.

What's not touted by the Pentagon is that the Army restructured those monthly goals and lowered recruiting targets at the beginning of this year. That means the Army has required 6,600 fewer recruits than it did at this time last year. The Army is betting it will make up that significant difference during the summer, which is traditionally its best recruiting period.

Just this week the Army announced it was providing recruiters with more tools to help meet those goals, including a $1,000 bonus for high school seniors who test well and who agree to enter boot camp before the start of the new recruiting year, which starts Oct. 1. That's on top of the $4,000 bonus most new enlistees get after completing basic training.