Friday, April 20, 2007

Army boots autistic recruit

CBS News reports that the US Army has released recruit Jared Guinther from his enlistment contract. The reason: Guinther is autistic. According to his mother, who phoned the recruiter to complain, the 18 year old plays with buttons and is afraid of the sounds of lawn mowers and toilets.

"Guinther started talking about joining the military after a recruiter stopped him and offered him a $4,000 signing bonus and $67,000 for college, his parents say. His parents said he didn't know there was a war in Iraq until last fall, shortly after he spoke with a recruiter, and asked them about it."

I admit, I am of two minds on this one. One less person going to war, attention to recruiting policies that border on coercion, I'm all for that. The problem is in statements like this one:

"To place someone in his condition in a combat role would create a wholly inappropriate and unnecessary risk of harm – not only to him, but all other members of his unit who would have to rely on him," Blumenauer wrote in his letter to the Pentagon." (emphasis added)

The implication that a person is unfit for service or for any work solely due to being autistic is troublesome at the least. Yes, I believe that this particular man, if he is afraid of lawn mowers, would not do well in the combat job he enlisted for. He might do well in another capacity; the army has all sorts of jobs.

My own form of prejudice tells me that war is a mess neurotypicals create, that we are too logical and peace-loving for it. And I am aware that this thought is biased, I own it as such. I don't expect all autistics to agree.

I am disheartened, however, that once again, the public is being sold the story of autism as an occupational liability and disqualifying factor. How many typical persons are found to be unsuitable for service? Where are the stories about their fears and quirks? The stories are unwritten; they are not real news. Neither is this one.

What it is is an attempt to use an autistic person to make a point about the current recruiting methods. That the point itself is valid, that the techniques are coercive and wrong, does not excuse the manipulation of latent content here.

Does anyone remember the name of that Penn and Teller show?


  1. I have always said that high functioning autistics (Aspies and the like) would be great in the military. The structured system would be perfect for them, they would never quit, either! Put those kids in labs, computer rooms, the band and the other musical groups....

    I wrote to each branch of the service, and also to Rick Sanitarium about it a while back, and he was so against it, it wasn't funny.

    The Navy people were really nice about it - they said the only thing was that they would have to carry a weapon. Say a band was aboard a ship and they were attacked, then they'd have to have the weapon. To me, if a kid like ours is taught how AND when AND why and WHERE to use and not use a weapon, they are probably a lot safer having one than some redneck who's had a few beers.

    My son could make a career playing the trumpet in a service band. He could go to the Navy School of Music, and we parents would never have to worry about his not having a place to live, not having food, etc. etc. etc. He has no other family to take care of him after we are gone, he'll either be in an alley somewhere or the government will be taking care of him anyway. So why not use his talents to his advantage and allow him to contribute to society??

  2. The Army's latest commercials show teenagers playing video games and suggest that a real-life war would be more fun. I'm disgusted beyond words... that's unconscionable.

    On the fitness of autistics to serve in the military, there are autistic soldiers now, and there always have been. I'd guess that most of the guys who worked on breaking Nazi and Japanese codes were autistic.

    I once met a guy who was obviously autistic and had just gotten out of the military after 10 years or so. He had done very well in the service because it was such a structured life, but he was having a hard time adjusting to a civilian office job.

    Still, I can't blame Guinther's mother for trying to get him out of the Army by any means she could. Mothers always have tried to save their sons from battlefields by making exaggerated claims about unfitness to fight. If he had joined up during peacetime, I'm sure she would have had a much different attitude.

  3. Moi :):
    they are probably a lot safer having one than some redneck who's had a few beers.

    What's that supposed to mean? Have you ever met anyone who was in the U.S. military?

  4. I feel that in THIS CASE the whole thing was a mess, but it doesn't have to be.

    My (dripping Asperger's) maternal grandfather was in the Navy for three wars. He thrived on the structure.

    Now I know, through my gym, a bunch of military kids & their parents. One of the dads was telling me that a bunch of autistic people work in intelligence breaking codes. He said that without that skill set the military would be in deep...yeah.

    But sometimes a job just is NOT the right one. It doesn't HAVE to be...

  5. My husband has Asperger's Syndrome and does very well in the military. In fact, he (like mayny others) does much better in a military setting.

    There have been several cases reported of men with AS in the military. Obviously, a person with AS should not be in a combat zone but there are many other useful things they can do in the military. People with AS tend to do very well in mechanical or technical jobs.

    I have read cases of two men who were officers (no longer with the Army now) who have AS. Both men claim to have done very well when they were enlisted but did poorly when they became officers.

    It should be taken on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the person's AS, the coping skills that they learned, if the job they will be able to avoid going into a combat situation and if it will be harmful to the soldier or the military.

  6. My husband has Asperger's Syndrome and is doing very well in the military. He does better now than he ever did in the civilian world. Since each person who has AS is effected differently the decision is made on a case by case basis. Obviously, no one with AS should be in a combat zone but there are other areas where someone with AS can be an invaluable asset to the military.

    My question is: Was he of a sound mind and legally able to sign the contract? Are his symptoms something that could be dangerous?

  7. "Obviously, no one with AS should be in a combat zone"?

    I dunno. I think I did ok in a combat zone.

  8. I am a high function autistic who is about to graduate. Sitting around in the computer room would bore me to death. Therefore, I have enlisted under 18x to (hopefully) be a Weapons Sergeant for the Army Special Forces (active duty of course). I will be receiving basic training this summer and hopefully be serving this country soon...

    To Moi;)
    You sound just like my mom, minus the yelling. Although i am very skilled in the computer field, I do not see it as something that I want to do in the Army. I enjoy the fighting.

    To abfh:
    My mother let me go enlist without any protest, yet she didn't let my older brother (who is also high functioning) enlist.

    To those who do not like the military:
    Do not disrespect the military. Just remember the hard working men and women who protect you. By saying negative things about the military, I believe that you are tarnishing and dishonoring the names of those who served, are serving, and gave their lives just so you could enjoy the many freedoms of this nation.

  9. I am going into the navy with mild autism.

  10. I have asperger's, and I did well enough in combat, be vigilant and consider anyone not in uniform a threat

  11. I was dignosed with mild Asperger's syndrome at age 12 and i want to become a (18B) Weapons Sergeant within the Army Special Forces,one of our Green Berets.

  12. Holy crap, i'm glad I found this. Just wanted to add,
    I'm a former American Soldier who lied at MEPS about my autism, and I don't regret it one bit. Went to Ft. Jackson for BCT, then to Ft. Lee and worked as a logistics guy. Yes, times were hard and many called me 'special' and 'retarded' for when I screwed up, but it was a happier time in my life.

  13. There is much deception, coercion and manipulation in recruiting. That's why when I enlisted my grandfather gave me many awesome pieces of advice. Amongst them was for me to avoid recruiters at all cost, instead, to make appointments with military career counselors. Those are the people who help guide the careers of people who are already in the military. They don't have to meet quotas, don't have the conflicts of interest that a recruiter has and, unlike recruiters, don't work for Psychological Operations. Yes, most people don't know that many recruiters work for Psychological Operations. And no, it's not a form of therapy. It's a form of deception. Recruiters will make some of the ugliest jobs sound like Club Med. and recruiters get bonuses for the number if people they bring in.

    Career counselors, on the other hand, led me to the career I gladly chose when I enlisted into the Air Force. My grandpa was right. They helped me prepare for the examinations and I knew just what to say and how to negotiate during my in-processing. First, I scored extremely well in the tests and then stated unconditionally that I would only enlist if they found a slot for me in Space Communucations. The recruiters hemmed and hawed. I bipassed them and instead communicated my proposition to the head of the military in-processing station. Unlike the recruiters, that person was very much "on the level", thanked me and promised to get back to me.

    Four months later he called me and said that he had a slot for me "that would meet my profile in Space Communications"!! I couldn't believe it, but this is true and my grandfather's advice paid off.

    Yes, I would have to go thru basic training, which was s pain, but my grandfather fully briefed me on that down to the most minute detail. He was once a sergeant in the Army Air Corps himself with some similar traits as myself. He was as determined as I was to see this succeed. He even taught me to perfectly make a bed, with hospital corners and tight so that a quarter would bounce from it. He taught me the exercises I would need to overcome, which was a bit if a challenge due to distonia such as chin-ups and push-ups. And he totally clued me in on the mind-games the drill sergeants were going to attempt. Also how to fold my underwear into perfect 6 inch squares, by ironing them around a 6x6 inch cardboard cutout.

    Two weeks into my basic training I was instructing other recruits in everything my grandfather had taught me. The drill sergeants called me into their office and told me "we know, that you know, what's going on here. And we would appreciate it if you kept it under your hat! Understood?" (Yes *giggle* "under your hat!") "Dismissed!"

    The rest of my "boot camp" was like "gravy train" and during my technical school it seemed like my instructors immediately identified "my kind". One of my instructors voluntarily offered me remedial training because he saw that I excelled at everything, because electronic communication was already a matter oft special interest and I had learned most of it before enlisting, BUT, I had this extreme phobia against digital processing and communications. I don't know why. My best instructors name was Guy, yes, "Guy", as in "guy". lol He explained digital to me in the most beautiful way and showed me how it was all a matter of logic! He made it "click" in my brain. ...and I graduated top in my class as a Space Communications Systems Operations & Maintenance Specialist!!

  14. Later on, I was assigned to... ...the Space Command! I reported to the best Captain on the planet. He also sought out and identified my "kind" and put me to work with other people of my "kind" and sooner than later I became supervisor, yes, shift supervisor to a master earth station and other earth stations for the operation, maintenance, telemetry, tracking, command and Communucations with satellites and the Space Shuttle!!! We designed new systems and we put them to the test. We even talked with astronauts in orbit sometimes!! We got great assignments and even travelled the world to other space stations. One small space station was in a war zone, on the border of Nicaragua and Honduras and there were snipers and two people were hit. One died. But this was not customary for my "type" of military career.

    All in all, all went well, we were treated extremely well, with dignity and respect. After boot camp I never had more than one roommate, and it was usually someone like me. And once I became sergeant I had a dorm room all for myself, with a shared bathroom, that I shared with another sergeant, again, very similar to me. Amongst ourselves, we knew how to communicate, work, and play. By the way, dining accommodations at the space command are very nice too.

    Unfortunately during the last four months of my enlistment it turned a bit hellish. Our good captain was promoted to become commander of a space station in Greenland (good for him, and well deserved!) but... ...the new guy that came in hated our "kind" and made life miserable for us. For me, I only had 4 months left in my enlistment. I didn't reenlist and got a great job working for the Astro Space Division of this big company. The other colleagues of my "kind" also got great jobs in Aerospace, and we haven't lost track of each other.

    Between my grandfather's excellent advice and the great captain and assignment that I had, my experience was I overall awesome. Partly luck, partly preparation, and definitely by avoiding recruiters at all cost!

    I bumped into my good captain several years later. He made a presentation for a working group I belonged to. I jumped up and down with joy. He blushed. (Because we were in a mixed crowd) but we were both very happy to see each other and see that we were both doing well, and still following our passion of Space technologies and communication.

    Neither of us would have been suitable at all as infantrymen. In fact, none of the people in his command would have been suitable, even though I was a sharp-shooter, but that still wouldn't have made me suitable. But he _knew_ darn well what we were suitable for and we were up to the task and we did it darn well! And we were happy and proud, under his excellent command.

    The other guy that replaced him, hmm... ...not so much. He can go "fly a kite"! hahaha

    Lastly, never, ever, ever, go through a recruiter. Ever. Learn _everything_ you need to know about what you are getting into, and then some. Be prepared both mentally and physically. But it is possible for people on the spectrum and there are jobs for people on the spectrum and you may be working along side others on the spectrum and sharing the same special interests. I am living testimony of this. I don't regret it and I owe my current success from these experiences and formation. I currently work for an European Space Agency.

    1. The question I have is why we Aspies or anybody else on the spectrum are so good for the armed forces, and if we will have to watch for society (U.S. society in particular) just sending anybody with a mild ASD like Asperger's into the military when it can't ever help us in the civilian world.


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