When a merchant uses bait-and-switch tactics on customers, it's sleazy. If the government used bait-and-switch tactics on young men and women to entice them to join the armed forces and put their lives at risk, it's so far beyond "sleazy" there's no adjective strong enough to describe it.
Chelsea Wells was a 17-year-old high school senior in Milton Freewater when the National Guard pulled what looks like a bait-and-switch move on her. The bait was the promise of a $20,000 recruitment bonus for agreeing to become an intelligence analyst, a "critical skills" position. Half was to be paid when Chelsea signed up, the other half after three years of service.
Chelsea collected the first $10,000. But when she tried to collect the rest of the bonus in 2010, the National Guard told her she could forget about it. The position she was recruited for "was not on the critical skills list on the date of [her] enlistment," the Guard's pencil-pushers claimed, so she wasn't going to get the second $10,000.
And as if that wasn't bad enough, the Guard told Chelsea she'd have to pay back the first $10,000.
If the experience of Chelsea Wells was an isolated case it might be possible to dismiss it as an annoying but innocent snafu of the kind the military bureaucracy is notorious for. But it isn't an isolated case.
At least 15 other members of the Oregon National Guard have been denied all or part of the recruitment bonuses they were promised, according to Rep. Greg Walden, who became aware of the situation when Wells contacted his office. And they signed on for different specialties at different recruiting offices, which makes it impossible to believe this was either an honest mistake or a cynical ploy by one recruiting officer.
It also seems likely that if the National Guard was pulling this trick in Oregon, it was pulling it in other states too. Walden suspects as much, and he's enlisted the support of the whole Oregon congressional delegation - all of them Democrats, except Walden - to get to the bottom of this mess.
"I would hate to think it was an organized bait-and-switch plan," Walden told reporters. Of course, everybody would hate to think that.
But for all the lip service this country pays to "supporting the troops," it too often fails to support them when it really counts. In many ways, from failing to provide adequate body armor to denying compensation for PTSD to giving substandard care at veterans' hospitals, America treats members of the military like expendable cannon fodder instead of the "heroes" the politicians love to make speeches about. It wouldn't totally surprise us if this case turns out to fit that pattern.
We hope the Guard will do whatever it takes to make good on its promises to Chelsea Wells and the other soldiers who got stiffed. Meanwhile, we're giving props to Walden for taking up their cause, and THE BOOT to the National Guard for behavior that was at best cheesy and at worst unconscionable.