The last thing Patrick Neal needed was $8,000 from the Army. The son perhaps the greatest nine-fingered litigator in the world, money had never been a motivation for him to join the Army. Instead, he wanted to lead men, help repair America's damaged standing in the world and perhaps launch a political career.
But no sooner had he arrived at Officer Candidate School this January did he begin to doubt the nobility of the institution he had joined. The very first day, officers briefly mentioned problems that had arisen with the signing bonuses that recruiters had promised them. As Patrick would learn later, the Army was trying to figure out a way around a provision of U.S. code that prohibits offering signing bonuses to officers.
No one mentioned the bonuses again until the day before the class of 115 was due to graduate and receive their commissions. Junior officers circulated a memo advising the candidates that the bonuses would not be paid, and told everyone they had to sign it. Pat, of course, did not sign it, reasoning that if he had a contract that called for him to receive an $8,000 signing bonus that he was never going to get, that contract was invalid.
Over the course of the next three months, Patrick's case sparked a clash between his superior officers that would eventually force a change in the Army's policy. After some initial harrassment, Patrick received a commission as a second lieutenant and an honorable discharge. He returned home Wednesday to yellow ribbons and American flags. (A "Mission Accomplished" was not arranged in time).
For his friends and family, Patrick's safe return after what he called his free trial in the Army is by far the most important issue. But the larger questions are still very troubling. Why were recruiters making promises they could not deliver? How many officials knew about this and why did they approve it? How many other people have been lied to?
At an impromptu welcoming party for Patrick, at which his mother smiled for the first time in a year, we discussed the case of Steven Green, the soldier accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then murdering her and her entire family. Green, despite at least two misdemeanor crimes on his record, received a "moral waiver" that allowed him to enlist. He was honorably discharged before the allegations against him came to light. His case has very little in common with Patrick's, but they both show the desperation tactics to which military recruiters have resorted in order to fulfill their quotas.