Maura and David Shepard have asked military leaders and legislators to help their son Brian (center), a freshman at New Hampshire Technical Institute, leave the Marine Reserve. (Bill Polo/ Globe Staff) Family feels misled by recruiter
Kingston student to be sent to Iraq
By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff | October 10, 2005
KINGSTON -- Brian Shepard thought he had the perfect plan: a special program, offered by a Marine Corps recruiter last spring, that would let him finish four years of college before he faced active duty.
Instead, the 18-year-old was notified last week -- less than one month into his freshman year at New Hampshire Technical Institute -- that his Marine Reserve unit will be sent to Iraq early next year, a development that Shepard said his recruiter never told him was possible.
A Marine spokesman said recruiters make no guarantees to enlistees about their deployment. The enlistment paperwork signed by Shepard stated he would have to leave college if his unit was activated, according to the spokesman.
The college student and his parents have appealed to military leaders, state legislators, and US Representative William D. Delahunt to help Shepard leave the Marines. Their complaint joins a rising chorus of concern nationwide over military recruiting tactics as the conflict in Iraq drives high demand for new enlistments, and pressure grows on recruiters to meet quotas.
Both the Army and the Marines have missed some monthly recruiting quotas this year as casualties in Iraq have continued to mount, and polls have shown steep increases in the number of parents who said they would discourage their children from enlisting.
''Recruiters are under pressure, and they will say anything," said Neil Berman, a Somerville lawyer and volunteer for the GI Rights Hotline, a national organization that advises enlistees who are trying to leave the military.
In an interview Saturday at their blue-clapboard, Cape-style Kingston home, where the large, fireplaced family room looks out on rambling woods, Shepard's parents said they hope, with assistance from Delahunt, to help their son exercise an early-exit option available within the first 180 days of enlistment. They said they don't know if the Marines must honor his request.
Members of the Shepard family, who described how they got to know the local recruiter, and came to trust him over several months, said they relied on him -- not the fine print in a written contract -- to explain Shepard's options and guide him.
That guidance, they say now, was marked by deception.
The family's dilemma was set in motion last fall, when Shepard, then a senior at Silver Lake Regional High School in Kingston, sent in a request for more information about the Marine Corps. A recruiter called his home repeatedly, and insisted they meet in person, he said.
When they met in February at the family's kitchen table, Maura Shepard listened as her son explained that he wanted to go to college and finish in four years. The recruiter described a ''split" reserve program that would let him finish college before he was deployed.
Maura Shepard said she asked the man twice if her son definitely could finish college, and that he replied yes. She said the recruiter never explained that the four-year delayed option was only for Marines training to be officers, and that if her son failed to qualify for the officer training, he would lose his shot at a delayed entry.
Her husband, David Shepard, who was away on business in Morocco when the recruiter first visited, met him later and was given the same assurances, he said.
The young man did not rush to a decision. With his parents still cautious about the military, he applied to colleges and talked with a family friend who had been a Marine. The recruiter kept calling, offering him money for college, and inviting Brian Shepard to join a rigorous training session in the snow.
''I liked it because it was a challenge," said Brian Shepard, who played high school football. ''I've always liked a challenge. I liked what the Marines stood for. I thought it was a great deal. And I trusted him."
He enlisted in April. He said that when he asked if his parents could review the contract, he was told there was not time. He admitted he erred by not reading the fine print, but said he had faith that the recruiter guided him fairly.
A short time later, his recruiter learned Shepard's score on the military entrance exam. Brian Shepard said the older man told him he would not be able to get the technician job he had hoped for, but did not mention his failure to qualify for the four-year delayed entry option.
He finished high school and started boot camp in mid-June. He graduated from boot campSept. 2, with his parents watching proudly, and started college four days later. He said it was not until two weeks ago, when he reported to Fort Devens in Ayer for his first weekend training session, that he learned he had no special status and could be shipped to Iraq at any time.
A week later, a phone message left for him by a Marine Corps communications officer shattered his dream of college. In January, his reserve unit will head to California for three months of training, then to Iraq.
''I felt totally betrayed, and extremely frightened," his mother said. ''I was absolutely shocked, and I was very sad for Brian because he took a long time deciding, and he felt good about it."
David Shepard said he felt angry -- and desperate. Both parents met last week with the recruiter, who blamed the situation on a misunderstanding, they said.
Contacted at his office in Plymouth, the recruiter, Sergeant Jason M. Whipkey, referred questions to the regional spokesman in Portsmouth.
The spokesman, Staff Sergeant Ken Tinnin, said the possibility that Shepard's unit could be mobilized, forcing him to leave college, was included in the contract he signed when he enlisted. He said Shepard's recruitment is not being reviewed for impropriety.
''There's no way any guarantee could have been made because we're Marines, and we deploy, especially during this time. It's in our job description," Tinnin said. He confirmed that Shepard tried to gain entry to the officers' program and did not qualify. He also said the recruit then decided to join the regular program.
Reports of unethical recruiting are received infrequently by the Portsmouth recruiting headquarters, which oversees a dozen recruiting substations, including six in Eastern Massachusetts, Tinnin said. Six complaints were investigated in 2004, and two complaints have been investigated this year; all eight have been found to be unsubstantiated, he said.
Meanwhile, the Portsmouth region slightly exceeded its recruiting goal of 827 last year, enlisting 863 Marines even though the war in Iraq ''has produced challenges for recruiting," Tinnin wrote in an e-mail.
According to a fact sheet compiled by the GI Rights Hotline, a national clearinghouse that has handled thousands of phone calls from military members, the most common complaint is: ''my recruiter lied."
In May, amid mounting concern about aggressive and unethical recruiting tactics, the Army ordered all 7,500 recruiters to set aside their regular work to spend one full day reviewing recruiting guidelines.
The same week, US Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, called for an investigation of recruiting strategies, citing a 50 percent increase from 2002 to 2004 in the number of reported recruitment improprieties that were substantiated by the Army.