An Army of one wrong recruit
Autism – The signing of a disabled Portland man despite warnings reflects problems nationally for military enlistment
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Jared Guinther is 18. Tall and lanky, he will graduate from Marshall High School in June. Girls think he’s cute, until they try to talk to him and he stammers or just stands there — silent.
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.
Jared’s story illustrates a growing national problem as the military faces increasing pressure to hit recruiting targets during an unpopular war.
Tracking by the Pentagon shows that complaints about recruiting improprieties are on pace to approach record highs set in 2003 and 2004. The active Army and the Reserve missed recruiting targets last year, and reports of recruiting abuses continue from across the country.
A family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and the fact that records about his illness were readily available.Continue reading