He trolled for teenagers in North Carolina high schools, barked orders at recruits in boot camp, and pulled charred civilian corpses out of cars in Iraq. Now Jimmy Massey is making good on his promise to tell the whole world what he learned as a Marine.
For the first 10 years, Massey loved being in the USMC. With a quick mind and an easy manner, he and his superiors knew he’d make a great recruiter. And by the luck of the draw, he was assigned to the area around Asheville, N.C., not far from where he grew up.
“It was an advantage being a recruiter in this area. I understand the mentality of mountain people. When we’d talk about topics like the economy and industry around here, I knew what people were talking about. And too, people here usually don’t open up to strangers.”
Contrary to what some believe, Marine Corps recruiters don’t get paid commission for going over quota, the 32-year-old former staff sergeant explained. “My monthly quota was three in the summer and two in the winter. You could get five one month but still go from hero to zero next month when you started over again.”
Recruiters are, however, “one of only three Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) in the Marines that get Special Duty Assignment (SDA) pay an extra $475 a month when I was in to offset the higher cost of living when you’re a recruiter,” he said. “An E-5 recruiter would make about $1,500 every two weeks including SDA pay. But being a recruiter is expensive. There’s extra costs. When you’re a recruiter, you’ve got to play the part.”
Bling, Promises, and the “Moment of Truth”
“For example, you have to have a nice car you can’t go rolling down the street in some old family wagon. You can’t be sittin’ there talking to a kid about financial stability and driving an old Ford Ranger. That just don’t get it!” He said he drove a Mustang for his personal car, and Army recruiters he knew drove “decked-out Expeditions with 20-inch rims. You have to have a little ‘bling’ [gold, jewelry, etc.] on you that kind of thing. I made sure I always dressed nice when I was off duty. You gotta play the part. Young kids are really materialistic minded.”
Then there’s the everyday expenses of recruiting, “like taking a guy to Hooters for some wings. The government gives me a credit card, but it’s in my name and the bill comes to me. I have to pay it and then get reimbursed.”
Often the biggest enticement a recruiter can offer young men and women trying to escape poverty is the promise of job training, even more appealing when it’s for a MOS in data systems, aircraft electronics, aircraft crew chief, or other sought-after specialties. But as Massey acknowledged, “The Marine Corps can guarantee you a job all day long, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to actually get it.”
A common way to swindle recruits out of promised jobs is the “Moment of Truth” exercise in boot camp. New recruits are taken to a room where their DI (drill instructor) tells them to “really think about it” and see if they’ve lied while enlisting or filling out their application.
“They’ll ask the recruits if they lied about things like ever having smoked grass, or maybe how many times they’ve smoked, and ask them to raise their hand if they’ve lied any time in the recruiting process,” Massey said. When the hands go up, the DI looks at them and says, “Listen. This is what’s gonna happen now. You lied to us. You can either quit in disgrace now, or since you signed a contract to be a Marine, you can stay in, but we’re not going to let you have the job you asked for.”
“Investigations” and Private Eyes
“There’s a whole network within the community to enable recruiters to make their quotas the sheriff’s department, police department, schools all the way up to the local congressional office.”
Massey recalled that at one point, “There was a congressional investigation brought up against me. I enlisted someone who was handicapped. I should have been in deep sh*t, but the Marine Corps swept it under the rug by stating that the kid had fraudulently enlisted. I got a call from Congressman Charles Taylor congratulating me on the work I had been doing, and he sent me an autographed picture.”
“A recruiter is like a private eye,” Massey said. “They know everything about the kids they’re recruiting.”
For example, he learned the names of virtually every graduating high school senior in his seven-county district about 1,000 youngsters annually in that largely rural area.
And high school students weren’t the only people he got to know well. “We knew the names of the district attorneys [DAs] in every county and went to them to get certain charges reduced or dismissed on kids we were recruiting. We took flowers to the secretaries in the clerk of courts offices. The clerk of courts can make a lot of things appear and disappear. We got to know people working in hospital medical records so we could check out, say, if a certain kid had asthma or not. We’d ask other kids ‘what about Johnny Smith?’ to find out if he had problems or if he might be interested.”
He explained the Marines’ Systematic Recruiting method that includes use of a working file of Prospective Applicant Cards on which information is routinely entered. “I’d put all the information down that I knew maybe Johnny Smith had some problems with the law. That’s when I’d go to the DA and ask if Johnny was salvageable. If he was, I’d tell the DA, ‘well, I talked with Johnny and he’s thinking of going into the Marine Corps.’ More likely than not the response I got would be, ‘Oh yeah? Well, that’s just great!'”
Massey said three years as a recruiter taught him “the power of the English language.”
“One way we used it was to identify ‘tangible and intangible traits’ in applicants. We would use cards with words printed on them, like ‘self confidence,’ or ‘financial security’ and ask an applicant to pick ones they were concerned about. That way, if a kid picks ‘self confidence,’ he’s telling you he feels like he’s lacking in self confidence and you can work him from that angle.”
For potential recruits with a record of criminal convictions, Massey pointed out that, “Anything is pretty much waivable in the Marine Corps even up to one felony.”
Potentially life-threatening medical conditions were also waivable, according to Massey. “Johnny might come to see me his senior year and say, ‘Sarge, I’m wondering if I might have something that might disqualify me I’ve got asthma.'”
“I’d ask him if he uses an inhaler. If he answered ‘yes,’ I’d tell him that if he controlled it with an inhaler then he really didn’t have asthma. Then I’d tell him to give me 10 pushups. If he did that with no trouble, I’d say, ‘See, you don’t have asthma!'”
He described his time as a recruiter as progressively more and more difficult. By his last year at it, 2002, he was “tired of lying. I felt like I was close to a nervous breakdown from the stress. I started seeing a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with major depression and put on medication for it. I wrote a letter to my commanding officer about how Marine Corps recruiting should be changed to be more ethical. The Recruiter Instructor they sent out to monitor my efforts ended up telling me he thought it was one of the best statements anyone had ever written about recruiting practices.”
Massey decided to quit being a recruiter but also to reenlist to get back to “the regular Marine Corps duty” he enjoyed. Leaving behind the deceit and stress of recruiting made him feel much better “good enough to get off anti-depressants.” But soon he got orders to northern Kuwait and within two months was invading Iraq with 130,000 other U.S. troops.
“We Just Lit ‘Em Up”
As he made his way north toward Baghdad, through the towns of Safwan and Basra, “our main job was to set up roadblocks. We had permission to fire on anyone who got through them.”
It was this experience, barely an instant compared with his dozen years in the Marines, that showed him a side of the military he’d not seen as an instructor at Parris Island or a recruiter.
“In one 48-hour period, we killed over 30 civilians in vehicles that got past our roadblocks. We just lit ’em up with gunfire. But when we went to pull the charred corpses out of the cars we never found any weapons. They were just civilians. I could start feeling the depression come back. I knew what it was from.”
In a meeting one day, his lieutenant asked him if he was feeling OK. Massey replied no, and told the lieutenant that “we’re committing genocide and leaving enough depleted uranium around to continue genocidal activity for a long time.”
“Do you really believe that?” the lieutenant asked.
“Yes,” replied Massey, “or I wouldn’t have said it.”
“I knew my career in the Marine Corps was over at that point,” he added.
Sent back to the States for medical reasons, Massey returned to the Marine base at 29 Palms, Calif., and was told to report to the mental health clinic. There, the first psychiatrist he spoke with told him, “I don’t deal with conscientious objectors [COs].”
“I knew right away we were going to have a problem,” Massey said, “because my response to her was, ‘Well, if you call not wanting to kill innocent civilians being a CO’ and she came back with, ‘Need I remind you that you are still in the military?'”
Refusing to back down, Massey retorted, “Woman, this isn’t my military because the Marine Corps I enlisted in was run by the Geneva Conventions. We didn’t kill civilians, and we damn sure didn’t cover it up.”
Later, in a meeting with a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO), he was asked, “What’s wrong?” But when Massey responded, the NCO interrupted him so he could open a desk drawer and turn on a tape recorder. Massey told the NCO he knew he was soon on his way out of the Marines, and told him, “I don’t want your money. I don’t want your benefits nothin’! Not with what y’all did over there in Iraq killing civilians.”
Massey said he knew he would need an attorney before talking with his superiors again, so he located one in a copy of the Marine Corps Times. “Next meeting I had with the psychiatrist, my attorney talked with her on the phone. She was completely different when she got off the phone with him.”
Asked what advice he would give to a teenager thinking of visiting a military recruiter, Massey thought a moment and answered, “Take a veteran with you to the recruiter. We’re never going to stop that one kid bound and determined to play Rambo, but getting the facts out, educating kids on what really goes on is important. That’s why I keep speaking out.”
Indeed, Massey put the Marines on notice just before he left. He informed a colonel, “The moment I get out of here I’m going to tell the whole world what I’ve learned.”
MIKE FERNER is a member of Veterans for Peace from Toledo, Ohio. He returned from a second trip to Iraq earlier this year. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org