There is a disturbing story today regarding a young disabled man, with multiple disabilities, who was recruited into the Marine Corps for service. I have to preface this story by saying that I love the Marine Corps. I have many friends and family who have served and I am proud of them and the Marine Corps. However, this story is disturbing because of the potential consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be in this situation.
The young man’s name is Joshua Fry and he has been diagnosed as Autistic. He was living in a group home at the time of his enlistment; in fact, it is alleged that a Marine recruiter picked him up from the home and took him to the recruitment center to enlist. The background of the story, as I understand it, is that this young man was born to parents who allegedly abused drugs. He was diagnosed as being Autistic, as a young child. Joshua was allegedly abused as a child and he had learning disabilities. He struggled in school and had allegedly developed a relationship with a military recruiter. Joshua got himself into trouble allegedly for stealing and having a weapon; and, he was sent away to a treatment facility for counseling.
In the meantime, Joshua’s grandmother had custody of him and allegedly told the Marine recruiter to take Joshua’s name off of the call list as he was “not Marine material”. It would have been easy enough to check that out by following up with the school administrators. Those words should have been the end of any active pursuit of Joshua, as a person to be considered as a Marine recruit.
For a recruiter to continue to persue an individual like Joshua; it should be considered a crime. Many special needs people would love to be in the military; however, the nature of the job requires quick thinking, reliable decision making every time, the ability to use good judgement, and, to exhibit character traits that would be of an elevated level compared to the average individual. Some individuals able-bodied or not, no matter how how they try, are not going to be able to perform at those levels and meet those responsibilities. It is important that those in the military be able to do so because lives depend on it!
For many people with multiple special needs…being able to make fast, quality decisions regarding the safety and well-being of themselves, as well as others, is difficult; even under normal circumstances, but if you add into the mix, the stress and chaos of a war situation, it could be a dangerous combination. It is heartbreaking to have someone want to serve who just may not be qualified to do so because of a physical, emotional, or developmental disability. But encouraging that same individual to go ahead and sign up should be criminal…it is not in the best interest of that individual, the military personel who work alongside of them, or the families who love and support them, to the best of their abilities.
It is being alleged that when Joshua got out of the facility and entered the group home; he had re-established a relationship with the recruiter. If it is true that the grandmother had spoken to those at the recruiting station and told them of the problems with Joshua…that should have been the end of any attempts to recruit him. If that recruiter had the knowledge of the problems that Joshua struggled with; he should not have allowed Joshua to sign up.
Joshua’s grandmother had the courts approval to be his legal conservator. Basically, meaning that he was not able to sign most legal documents because he wasn’t able to completely understand the legal consequences in doing so. He had a low IQ, he was diagnosed as Autistic, bi-polar, asthmatic, he had learning disabilities and he had also been treated in an in-patient environment. For all of those reasons and more…he should never have been a candidate for service in the Marine Corps.
Once he got to boot camp, he found himself in over his head. He got in trouble for stealing food, for disrespecting authority, and, he was not following orders. He told those in positions of authority that he didn’t want to be a Marine and told them of his history. They agreed he shouldn’t be there after talking to his grandmother; but, instead of sending him home he was allowed to graduate boot camp. Months later, he was found to have pornographic photos on his cell phone…disciplined and instructed to not do it again. He failed and again was found to be in possession…this time with child pornography. What he did is wrong definately, does he understand that? That is the question…does he know what he did is wrong; and, is he capable of understanding that his actions have legal consequences?
He was arrested and is being held on a variety of charges that he probably does not understand and is incapable of avoiding committing over and over again in the same military environment that he should never have been allowed to enter in the first place. For heaven’s sake, this is an individual that was living in a supervised setting because of issues relating to the impulsive behaviors associated with his disabilities that didn’t allow him to live independently. How in the world is he expected to fulfill his commitment to the military? What will happen to Joshua and others like him? What kind of legal discipline will he be forced to accept? Will he be dismissed from service and returned to a supervised group home setting or will he be in the prison system?
While some disabilities allow individuals to perform many tasks related to military life…there is no guarantee that those are the only situations in which they will be needed to perform in. We have to be very careful about making decisions regarding allowing those with disabilities into the military. Their very lives could depend on it.
Recruiters are expected to persuade prospects to sign on the dotted line and become a member of our military service. However, people with documented low IQ’s, learning disabilities or medical or emotional issues that would prevent them from performing their duties in a safe and timely manner should not be “encouraged to join up”. This feels a little like it is taking advantage of someone’s lack of understanding. It is an unfair advantage to have knowledge that they could be put into situations that are not within their capabilities of handling appropriately; and, still encourage them to join the service.
We are in a time of war, men and women are needed to serve. However, it is wrong to recruit people who are at a disadvantage intellectually, physically or emotionally. This issue is going to become more of a problem because of some changes being made to the educational requirements across our nation. Many special education students are caught between a rock and a hard place with the raising of educational requirements to graduate. Many of them will no longer be allowed to get a diploma…they will be getting a certificate of completion instead. Some of them will have to go to high school for 5-6 years, as the additional requirements are phased in. This is already resulting in many students either dropping out of high school or choosing to get a GED. Many more will try to seek a position with the military because of the lack of jobs available for special needs persons. Just because someone is disabled or has special needs doesn’t mean that they are not patriotic; it doesn’t mean that they don’t want the respect that being in the military can give them. Many would love an opportunity to be a hero for their country by serving. This makes them vulnerable to outside influences when it comes to signing up.
It is important that the Marine Corps does what is right in this situation for Joshua and others like him. He was out of his element here; and, it should have been stopped by those in a position to do so before he ever signed on the dotted line and spent one day in boot camp. Many eyes will be watching. Parents, agencies, friends and educators…please be aware that your special needs students are vulnerable to the desire to serve their country. It is admirable, but they are also vulnerable to recruiters who need to put people into the service and are more than willing to talk to your students in a way that makes them even more determined to serve; whether they are fully capable of doing the job safely, or not.
What are your thoughts on these issues?