Being a soldier changes a person. Their duty is to protect and serve the country, but how they do that is where the challenge lies. That’s why becoming a soldier is considered honorable, brave, and admirable.
So, it’s surprising when it was discovered that there are many civilians who pretend to have served in the military. It caused quite a stir that then president Barack Obama signed The Stolen Valor Act and False Speech during his term in 2013. This aims to prosecute those who claim to have served in the military when in fact, they didn’t.
Why do people fake their military experience?
The FBI receives about 50 fraud cases in one week while a veteran in Colorado Springs, who works full time in unmasking these fake soldiers, receive about 15 cases a week. Experts say that these numbers are so high mainly because it’s so easy to forge records on one’s military experience.
To validate one’s military experience, an accomplished DD214 form must be presented. This form contains the soldier’s rank, training, length of service, and awards. There’s only one problem – there’s no one giant or central database that officials can visit so that they can verify the documents of the fraudster. Most of the time, these are taken at face value which makes forging these documents so easy.
Why would people want to fake their military experience?
While it’s understandable to think that it takes a certain kind of person to do these things, it’s not necessarily the case. It may be true to some extent that the people who do this only want to enjoy the fame, glory, and benefits that come with being a soldier without realizing that it’s deeper than that.
For other fraudsters, as it was mentioned in this military discipline essay it’s so much more than just the popularity and praise that comes with being a soldier. Doug Sterner, a veteran from Colorado Springs who has solved countless cases of military fraud and honors real soldiers, says that there are three reasons as to why someone would fake being a military officer:
- To make up for their shortcomings
- To redeem themselves from past mistakes
- To hide their criminal activities or criminal histories
While it could possibly be a different reason for each individual, the reasons listed above are the most common and the ones that make most sense.
What can we do about it?
Serving the country, whether as a soldier or a government official, takes bravery, integrity, honesty, and respect. The most we can do about it is to be informed on the proper terms, jargons, and basic procedures a soldier endures when they join the military. There’s no need to go into the nitty-gritty details of what goes on behind the barracks, but knowing the right questions to ask is always a good start.
A real soldier knows the basic jargon that is used in the military. The US Army, for example, uses a Military Occupation Specialty code which is their designation for what a soldier specifically does in the US Army. In the US Air Force, it’s called AFSC, which stands for Air Force Specialty Code. If a ‘soldier’ says that they have MOS’s in the Air Force, high chances are they’re not a real soldier.
Any soldier would also know where the proper bases, forts, or camps are. Ft. Lewis is a military facility in Washington that trains Army Rangers, meaning all Army Rangers should obviously know where this is. Nellis Air Force Base is located in Southern Nevada and trains combat aviators. If an Air Force doesn’t know where this is, then they’re lying about being a soldier. Camp LeJeune trains the US Marines in North Carolina, so if a US Marine tells you it’s located in South Carolina, they’re not a real Marine.
The most obvious lie you can spot from a phony soldier is if they tell you that they’ve never, ever cleaned in the military. Cleaning is basically a core responsibility in the military – everyone goes through it (except command officers). It’s the most simplest form of teaching discipline to young soldiers, making sure they keep their barracks clean and tidy, especially for inspection. If a soldier tells you they’ve never cleaned in the military before, cut the conversation as you’re talking to someone faking their military experience.
Soldiers go through grueling hours in training to learn their equipment. If you notice that a soldier isn’t familiar with their equipment, chances are that you’re talking to a fake. Any US Marine can identify the class of the ship they served on. An Air Force member can tell you the types of aircrafts in the facility they served by heart. If a soldier gets their equipment wrong, they’re a fake.
Lastly, a soldier always know their ranks. They know the proper names and titles for each rank, and know the qualifications for them to either move up or down the rank. If they have a problem identifying ranks, they’re most likely a fraud.
While it’s a saddening thought to think about, military fraudsters are real and there’s a lot of them. The good thing is that most of them don’t bother to brush up on their military knowledge, which makes them easy to spot.
Honor our soldiers – the real ones – and make sure you always stay informed about the heroes of our country. If you want to reach out and help our soldiers, visit The Long Road Home Project to see how you can help each wounded soldier.