This Man Wants Your Children: Army Recruiter Chad Christenson
Evolution of a Soldier
Christenson was raised by a single mother, who was 22 and unmarried when she gave birth to him. He grew up in Hesperia, California, and in high school played baseball and worked summers as a house painter to supplement the household income. After graduation he briefly attended a community college but felt adrift. He was close to his grandfather, who'd served in the Navy during World War II and had a battleship tattoo emblazoned on his chest. The first Gulf War was under way at this time, and the idea of liberating Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's Iraq appealed to Christenson. War seemed like an adventure, but by the time he joined the Army as an infantryman, late in 1991, Operation Desert Storm was over. He was sent to Hawaii instead.
By then he'd married his high school sweetheart and had a son, but the marriage broke up while he was in Hawaii. Not long after that he met Gina, a New Mexico native who was teaching science at a Honolulu high school. They married in 1995.
Gina attributes her husband's success to his awareness that "college isn't for every kid" and his willingness to "work really hard to get good jobs" for his recruits. She has a demanding job at a state agency that trains science teachers, and her husband's long hours often leave her feeling like a single parent to their 5-year-old daughter, Alyssa. "Don't get me wrong," she says. "I love the Army, but military families, here and abroad, really suffer."
Before becoming a recruiter, Christenson worked in what the Army calls a logistical field -- he moved large amounts of cargo from place to place. Along the way he earned an online associate's degree in computer information systems, paid for by the Army's tuition assistance program. His supervisors told him he could advance by becoming either a drill sergeant or a recruiter. He chose the latter. "I don't have the temperament of a drill sergeant," he admits. "Not enough bark or bite."
Christenson says he has found over the years that people enlist in the Army for one of a few primary reasons, including stability, adventure, and because of their sense that being a soldier is what they were born to do. He's familiar with the dark side of recruiting, of course -- the improprieties brought on by the pressure to meet quotas. In 2005 the Army officially investigated 836 allegations of recruiter misconduct -- a number representing about 10 percent of its entire recruiting force. Asked about reports that a Colorado recruiter offered tips on faking a diploma and beating drug tests, Christenson says, "That was just sickening," genuine pain registering on his face.
Some of the Army's recent changes in recruiting policy -- setting up a MySpace profile, accepting lower entrance scores on aptitude tests, and granting more "moral waivers" that allow convicted criminals to enlist -- have been controversial and have sometimes led, critics argue, to tragic consequences. A case in point is that of former Army Private Steven D. Green, of Midland, Texas, a high school dropout who joined the Army in 2005. Green was given waivers for two misdemeanor convictions for possession of drug paraphernalia and tobacco as a minor and an arrest for misdemeanor possession of alcohol. In September of the same year, he was deployed as an infantry soldier to Iraq, where he allegedly raped and killed an Iraqi girl and killed three members of her family. He was discharged from the Army for "a personality disorder" and now awaits trial for murder and rape in federal court. He has pleaded not guilty.