FORT KNOX, Ky. –
It was voiced in the universal language of all caps in bold type: “THERE IS NO PLACE FOR EXTREMISM IN OUR ARMY.”
This was the point the top officer and enlisted Soldier in U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command wanted to make crystal clear to Army personnel, in TRADOC memorandum #23.
The commander of TRADOC, Gen. Paul Funk II, and Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex signed the memo following violence at the U.S. Capitol in January. The memo’s audience includes the Soldiers and civilians of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, one of TRADOC’s core function leads.
“It’s our responsibility to root out extremist behavior by having tough conversations within our Squad…by talking to each other and making sure we are reinforcing our Army values,” the memo continued, immediately after its all-capped declaration.
Living according to the Army’s values is something strongly reinforced when Soldiers learn how to be Army recruiters. It’s at USAREC’s Recruiting and Retention College here where they are taught how to be the Army’s ambassadors to the American public. That responsibility includes vetting those who want to be Soldiers for known extremist indicators.
“Military personnel must reject participation in extremist organizations and activities,” according to an enlistment annex every Future Soldier is required to sign. “Extremist organizations and activities are ones that advocate racial, gender, or ethnic hatred or intolerance; advocate, create, or engage in illegal discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin; advocate the use of or use force or violence or unlawful means to deprive individuals of their rights under the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States or any State; or advocate or seek to overthrow the Government of the United States, or any State by unlawful means.”
Sgt. Maj. Donald Graves is the director over all instruction for recruiting at RRC. Students learn what can morally disqualify an applicant during their first week of instruction, he said. An applicant’s past can mean they have no future in the U.S. Army and recruiters are taught to consider that on a personal level.
They are urged to ask themselves, “Is this someone you would want to serve alongside you in combat?” Graves said. “Is this the kind of person you would want leading your son or daughter?”
All applicants complete numerous questionnaires and are subject to interviews with Army leaders during the accession process to determine if applicants have a history of conduct that shows that they have questionable moral character, or that they hold views that are inconsistent with Army values.
Unfavorable information gathered from applicants can be all that is needed to deny entry into the Army. Passing the interview stage, however, is far from the end of the vetting process. Subsequent screening includes identification checks and verification, criminal background screening, a sex offender check, fingerprints sent to the FBI, local police checks, and checks of local court documents. These checks include the FBI's Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File.
Tattoos are another known indicator of extremist tendencies, and all applicants are required to disclose and explain such tattoos to recruiters. RRC instruction has included tattoo screening since before Graves was a student at the school in 2006, he said.
Recruiters learn to ask about visible tattoos, such as on the hands or head. Searching for those not disclosed by applicants, hidden beneath clothing, is part of the medical screening every applicant is required to complete.
“Questionable body altering marks and/or possibly offensive tattoos must be documented and explained,” according to a regulation adopted by United States Military Entrance Processing Command, the entity responsible for the medical screening of applicants.
A key component also built into the vetting process is the U.S. government’s Standard Form 86, a questionnaire for national security positions. The Defense Department requires all applicants to fill out an 86, which includes questions specific to affiliations and group memberships.
Every submitted 86 results in a federal background investigation and those applying for positions of significant trust receive additional layers of vetting. Investigators assigned to significant trust applications are required to speak with a variety of people who have first-hand knowledge of the applicant. Past and present coworkers, schoolmates, neighbors, and friends are among those investigators speak with the most.
Included in the 86 are questions specific to actions contrary to the U.S. Constitution. The TRADOC memo reminded command personnel of the oath they swore to support and defend the Constitution, as well as the rights granted by it.
“As Americans, we’re all entitled to our own views, but that is no reason for behavior contrary to our Army values,” TRADOC’s top leaders said in the memo. “It is imperative that we are models of professionalism, character, and integrity both on and off duty, and that we uphold the Army’s apolitical standards during these challenging times.”