Fake Your Way Into the Army?

Jason Morris

Jesse Bernard JohnstonEarlier in the week we wrote about Adam Wheeler who lied his way into Harvard. (And many other things)  This one just blows my mind.  Get ready for this.  Jesse Bernard Johnston III joined the Army Reserves as a sergeant but was not qualified to hold that rank.  According the the AP, Johnston’s only military experience was attending part of a 12-week Marine officer candidate course for college students in 2004.  This is pretty VERY scary.  Because of lax background check procedures many lives could have been at stake.  He was given security clearance and was in a position to lead troops into combat…..with no training.  Does this mean our military could possibly be infiltrated by terrorists and others wishing to do our country harm?  I think this story raises significant issues and kudos to the AP for uncovering it.  Background screening at all levels of government has come under fire over the last few years.  Is this just the tip of the iceberg?

AP INVESTIGATION: Texas man faked way into Army

FORT WORTH, Texas – A Texas man with no military experience tricked the Army into letting him enter a reserve unit as a noncommissioned officer earlier this year, a deception that placed an untrained soldier in a leadership position in a time of war, an Associated Press investigation has found.

The revelation comes just months after the Army drew criticism for failing to flag the suspicious activities of the Army psychiatrist now charged with killing 13 and wounding dozens of others at Fort Hood.

The case, detailed in court records and other documents examined by the AP, raises more questions about the Army’s ability to vet soldiers’ backgrounds as it faces continued pressure from Congress over its screening and records system. While the soldier never deployed overseas, some say the case demonstrates how easily someone could pose as a member of the U.S. military.

Jesse Bernard Johnston III, 26, joined the Army Reserve in February as a sergeant and was assigned to the Corps Support Airplane Company based at the Fort Worth Naval Air Station. But he wasn’t qualified to hold that rank, according to military records obtained by the AP. The records show that Johnston’s only military experience was attending part of a 12-week Marine officer candidate course for college students in 2004.

Maj. Shawn Haney, spokeswoman for Marine Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said Johnston didn’t complete the course’s final six weeks. “He was never considered a Marine,” she said.

The matter, currently under investigation by the Army, means a soldier received a security clearance and was in position to lead troops in combat even though he hadn’t gone through basic training or spent any time in the service. The Corps Support Airplane Company has been deployed in Iraq, providing pilots as well as intelligence and support personnel for an aviation battalion set up to destroy improvised explosive devices.

If it’s proven that Johnston gained his Army rank based on a phony Marine record, it would be the first documented case of so-called “stolen valor” in which the military was duped during the enlistment process, according to watchdogs of such fraud. Most cases involve attempts to get veterans’ benefits or other forms of financial gain. Congress attempted to crack down on military impostors in 2005 by passing a law that makes it a crime to claim false decorations or medals.

“This just raises some incredibly significant issues at a time when this country is involved in a global war on terror,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who served with the Marines in Iraq and the first Gulf War. “If this person was able to penetrate the military fraudulently, you have to ask the question: Couldn’t somebody who was out to do harm to our country do the same thing?”

Coffman is pushing for the creation of a single database for all military records as a step toward eliminating fraud.

Army officials, citing an ongoing investigation, declined to provide details of Johnston’s enlistment or say whether he’s suspected of providing false documents or using some other means to make himself out to be an ex-Marine.

Questions about Johnston were raised by an officer who grew concerned when Johnston couldn’t satisfactorily explain how he got certain Marine medals and ribbons that he displayed. The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said he contacted Marine and Army legal authorities and learned from the Marines that Johnston never served.

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Jason Morris

President & Chief Operating Officer at EmployeeScreenIQ
A veteran screening and risk management professional, Jason Morris founded EmployeeScreenIQ in 1999 and acts as the company’s chief operating officer and president. Morris is a frequent speaker delivering captivating, interactive discussions on background checks, global screening, recruitment and staffing. He educates audiences in best practice initiatives as they relate to organizational employment screening programs. Morris has been quoted in numerous business and industry publications including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, USA Today, New York Times, among others. He is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
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