‘Sign Here Kid’
By Mike Ferner
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 ten 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, NC, 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 commissions 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 do get Special Duty Assignment pay, “an extra $475 a month, when I was in,” he said, to offset the higher cost of living in the civilian economy. “An E-5 recruiter would make about $1500 every two weeks including SDA pay.
“But being a recruiter is expensive. There’s extra costs, 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. You have to have a nice car, you can’t go rolling down the street in some old family wagon. You can’t be talkin’ to a kid about financial stability and drivin’ an old Ford Ranger.” Massey drove a Mustang, and Army recruiters he knew drove “decked-out Expeditions with 20-inch rims. And not just a phat ride,” he added, “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.” Often the biggest enticement a recruiter can offer young men and women trying to escape poverty is the promise of job training. Conversely, not getting the job a recruiter “guarantees” can be a source of real discontent among the troops. “The Marine Corps can guarantee you a job all day long,” Massey said, “but that doesn’t mean you’re going to actually get it. 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.”
“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 in every county, and went to them to get certain things [charges] reduced or dismissed on kids we were recruiting.”
Massey 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 D.A. and ask if Johnny was salvageable. If he was, I’d tell the D.A., ‘well I talked with Johnny and he’s thinking of going into the Marine Corps.’” More likely than not the response would be, “Oh yeah? Well, that’s just great!”
While the “Systematic Recruiting” method concentrated on a kid’s social weaknesses, it might ignore a potentially life-threatening medical condition, say, asthma. “I’d ask an applicant concerned about his asthma 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 it. 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!’”
By 2000, his last year as a recruiter, Jimmy Massey got “...tired of lying. I felt like I was close to a nervous breakdown. I was diagnosed with major depression and put on medication. I wrote a letter to my commanding officer about how Marine Corps recruiting should be more ethical.”
The Recruiter Instructor who once monitored Massey’s work, told him 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. Soon he felt “good enough to get off anti-depressants.”
Then came his orders to northern Kuwait, and within two months, he was invading Iraq with 130,000 other U.S. troops. As they made their way north towards Baghdad, through the towns of Safwan and Basra, Massey said his unit’s “main job was to set up roadblocks. We had permission to fire on anyone who got through them. In one 48-hour period, we killed over 30 civilians. 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 if he was feeling okay, and Massey replied “No. We’re committing genocide, and leaving enough depleted uranium around to continue genocidal activity for a long time.” “Do you really believe that,” the Lt. asked? “Yes,” replied Massey, “or I wouldn’t have said it.”
At that point, Massey knew his career in the Marine Corps was over. Two months after the invasion, Massey was sent to a Navy psychiatrist in Kerbala, Iraq, re-diagnosed with major depression, and PTSD, and told that he would be medevac’d out.
Since his honorable, medical discharge from the Corps, Jimmy Massey has been applying the hard lessons of war to the cause of peace. He is a founding member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and has started writing a book about his experiences. When asked what advice he would give to a teenager when 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 kid bound and determined to play Rambo, but getting the facts out, educating kids, that’s why I keep speaking out.”
Indeed, Massey put the Marines on notice just before he left. Speaking to a Colonel he pledged that, “the moment I get out of here, I’m going to tell the whole world what I’ve learned.”
—Veterans For Peace Newsletter, October 15, 2004