News Release

Do Military Enlistees Actually “Know What They Are Getting into”?


Following the death of Sergeant La David T. Johnson in Niger, Johnson’s family reported that President Donald Trump told them Johnson “knew what he signed up for.” Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, in attempting to explain Trump’s remark also stated Johnson “knew what he was getting himself into.” While this has received a fair amount of attention in terms of the appropriateness of such remarks, few have examined whether or not military enlistees like Johnson do know what they are signing up for.

PAT ELDER, pelder at, @studentprivacy
Author of the recently released book Military Recruiting in the United States, Elder is director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that confronts militarism in the schools. His  pieces for Truthout include: “The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Is Not A Substitute For Education.”

Elder argues that between economic pressures, racial prejudices, lack of educational opportunities and deceit in the military recruitment process faced by many enlistees, they frequently don’t actually know what they are signing up for.

He said today: “Johnson graduated from Miami Carol City Senior High School in 2010. The school is 99 percent minority with 86 percent identified as economically disadvantaged. Just 14 percent of the students are proficient in math and 23 percent are proficient in English. The school’s college readiness index is a 7.5 on a scale of 0 to 100. Trayvon Martin also attended Miami Carol.

“Miami Gardens, where La David lived, is a city of 110,000 that is 98 percent African-American and Hispanic. Over half of the city’s population were stopped by police between 2008 and 2013. Miami Gardens is one of the most crime-ridden cities in America. The murder rate is three times the national average.

“La David’s daughter was born in 2011, the year after he graduated from high school. He worked in the produce department at the local WalMart. In 2014, he married Myeshia Manual and enlisted in the Army as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. He wanted to take care of his wife and child.

“Like others, La David’s enlistment was a gamble that he hoped would provide a way out of poverty without getting killed or seriously injured. …

“Misrepresentation is rampant in the military recruiting process. The top seven lies recruiters tell are:

“1. Your chances of being sent to a combat zone are slim.

“2. It’s fairly easy to get out if you don’t like it.

“3. You’ll get the job on your enlistment contract.

“4. If you refuse to ship out to basic training you will go to jail.

“5. Once you complete your enlistment you can get out and won’t be called back again.

“6. You’ll get the location you want.

“7. You don’t have to disclose your mental health issues.

“Currently, over 40 percent of those who enlist do not make it through their first term. For many, this is because of unrealistic expectations based on the lies proffered by the recruiting command. There were more than 20,000 deserters from the Army alone during the period from 2006 to 2014. Desertion is so common the military often looks the other way. The Army has pursued just 1,900 cases of desertion since 2001, and most of these prosecutions have resulted in little more than a slap on the wrist. The perpetual demand for new recruits, coupled with a military recruiter quota system, conspires to bring vast numbers of pathetic souls into an unforgiving, hostile environment that discards pitiful, failing youth like scrap materials filling military landfills.”