Tim Barto: Encouraging someone to lie to get into the military is unethical, at the very least



Recent on-record remarks by a member of the Alaska House of Representatives regarding marijuana use contained statements that were factually, legally, and ethically inaccurate. 

Instructing a person to “not be honest” is encouraging that person to lie. Lying during a military enlistment procedure is a felony. Setting a young person up for prosecution such as an Article 15, dishonorable discharge, or felony is either scurrilous behavior or just plain ignorance; to do so as an elected member of the state Legislature and a commissioned military officer is wholly inappropriate.

It is still illegal, regardless of state law, to use marijuana while in the military or while holding a security clearance. That seems to be understood; however, encouraging a person to lie on a military enlistment form puts that person’s military career and legal standing in jeopardy.

There are several steps in the enlistment process, aside from filling out a form, that are used to weed out the weed users. Every potential recruit is subject to a urinalysis test at the Military Entrance Processing Station. A positive test puts a halt to further processing. Once in the service, military members are subject to urinalysis throughout their careers.

Boot camp took place 40 years ago for this writer, but it is my understanding that a “moment of truth” still occurs during most recruit training. This occurs when a gaggle of recruits are assembled early in the process and a military member proceeds to scare the bejesus out of them, letting them know that no matter what they told their recruiters back home, this was their opportunity to come clean – about their educational claims, arrest history, medical background, drug use – you name it. And come clean they had better because things were about to get serious. Backgrounds would be checked and if something came up that had not been admitted to, well, it would not go well for the recruit’s career and could lead to prosecution, discharge, even jail.

Threatening these horrible things is done to get the newbies, most of whom are teenagers whose heads are already swimming with fear and trepidation, to ‘fess up, so as to avoid a lengthy and unpleasant discharge process, especially if it occurs a few months down the road after the American taxpayers have already invested a bunch of money into the recruit’s training.

It’s no secret that some military recruiters, often due to pressure to meet quotas and keep their performance ratings up, do unethical things to coax those warm bodies into the service . . . things like telling recruits to lie. 

The federal government’s personnel security investigations program exists to ascertain an individual’s worthiness to hold what is called a position of trust. The majority of people under investigation are military members who typically require a security clearance to get the training or classified access needed to carry out their mission. Advisements to be honest are given to all recruiters, and a majority of them maintain their integrity and do things the right way.

Despite this, as well as that moment of truth during boot camp, some unsavory characters still slip through the cracks. Some of them are afraid they will lose their much desired benefits — housing, medical care, college tuition, three meals a day — so they choose to be dishonest during their enlistment process. Others were encouraged by their recruiters to simply lie on the multitude of forms it takes to process an enlistment.

The matter of recruiter falsification is so common that there is a special process in place to open suitability investigations on dishonest recruiters themselves. Most recruiters are noncommissioned officers or staff noncommissioned officers, and a fraud investigation usually does not bode well for their continued careers.

The truth of the matter is that drug use, particularly recreational marijuana use by teenagers, is so common that waivers are readily used to allow admitted weed tokers to enlist, but these waivers are necessary only if the use was heavy, recent, or included harsher drugs than cannabis. The statement then, that a person cannot join the military if he or she used marijuana is patently false. If the military limited its ranks to those who have never smoked a joint or puffed a pipe, then the recruitment numbers would be drastically worse than they already are.

To hear a commissioned officer unabashedly admit that he encouraged a friend’s dope-smoking offspring to lie to his recruiter is not only misguided, it smacks of misconduct. If drug use is incompatible with military service then a military member should not encourage a drug user (son of a friend or not) to raise his right hand. It doesn’t make it OK just because it’s a secret.

From a security standpoint, the secrecy only makes matters worse. The new soldier/sailor/airman/Marine entered the service on false pretenses and now has to maintain his lies to keep from getting caught. If he eventually needs to apply for a security clearance, then maintaining the lie compounds the problem because there are now two levels of falsification:  1) the enlistment, and 2) the security clearance application. If the lie is continued then the issue is now one of blackmail. A desire to keep his secret, especially since it came from a respected friend of his father, is now a point of vulnerability around which an enemy player’s  hook can be used to manipulate the young serviceman.

The act of encouraging lying, especially as an elected official and commissioned officer, wreaks of situational ethics. If lying and falsification is improper – and it is – then it is indeed improper. Period.

Telling a young person to start their military career off with a lie is unethical. Feeling bad for a friend’s offspring who wants to join the military is not an excuse to do so. 

Tim Barto spent over 30 years in the personnel security investigations field, and also  served in the Marine Corps, Army National Guard, and Navy Reserve. He held a Top Secret/SCI clearance for most of his career. He also initiated numerous investigations into recruiter falsification.


  1. They won’t go after him like they did Eastman though. Radical left-wingers like Andrew Gray get a free pass.

    • Like that is a reasonable comparison of what occurred here. This is a case of failure to properly discharge the duties of the office, not a case of lying to get into the military. Gray is unfit, it is obvious from his statements in front of the assembly and his admitted actions in his role in the Guard.

  2. Anybody with common sense I.E. conservatives should steer as far away from the military and government. They lie to us on a regular basis, you can’t trust anything they say or what they want to inject into you.

  3. As I stated in an earlier thread about this, Gray has committed crimes both civilian and military. The house needs to look into proper charges on the civilian side and Gray’s command should suspend him from further duties until he is charged as per the UCMJ. We’ll see if the house has the stones to do anything and I KNOW from experience that the ‘command’ of the Alaska Guard goes out of it’s way to cover up all those ‘important people’.

  4. The enlistment screening used to ask “Have you tried marijuana more than four times?” I always wondered why they picked that threshold. I guess it’s up to fifteen times now.

Comments are closed.