How do I get my brother out of the Marines?
November 9, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

How do I help my little brother get out of the Marines? My little brother (well, not so little anymore) recently graduated from Marines' boot camp and is now in infantry training (I think, I'm woefully ignorant of military terminology). He recently expressed to me online that he's basically had enough with the Marines and wants to go home. Is there any way he can do that simply and legally? Would he have to get a dishonorable discharge. Seriously, I know nothing about the military having come from a long line of cowards. Can he just leave or is there some special process? Is there some kind of hotline or something he can call to be counseled on this stuff?

Some more info: He's 18 years old, but he signed up when he was 17 with our mother's permission. He's stationed in South Carolina (again, I forget the name of the base... I'm a terrible older brother) somewhere. Our family lives in New Jersey, but I'm in California. If he needs to hide out from the military I have absolutely no problem taking him in (too dramatic?)

I'll also say that I feel more than a little guilty that I didn't protest more before he left for boot camp and that trying to help him get out of the Marines is probably my way of trying to make up for that. Maybe it's too little too late.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Before you discuss desertion with him, how sure are you he *really* wants out? Others will chime in with more details/personal experience, but from the few military friends I’ve had, most of them expressed similar feelings after boot camp, but that didn’t mean they were ready to give up the tuition help/ other military benefits

I don’t mean to be dismissive, it just seems like an online chat is not much to go on at this point
posted by Think_Long at 10:49 AM on November 9, 2009
posted by skjønn at 11:06 AM on November 9, 2009

One simple way is for him to say that all that close proximity to guys in boot camp made him realize he's gay!

Or he could call here. You could call them too, find out what his rights are and let him know.

I know a young man who came home after Marine boot camp a couple of years ago and decided not to go back, he got some help negotiating with them and they eventually just let him out.
posted by mareli at 11:08 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are ways to get out of the military if you're determined enough, but desertion is the absolute worst way to do this. You're looking at a dishonorable discharge at best, and at worst the brig. I would look into the resources other people have provided here before encouraging him to desert. There are better ways.
posted by elder18 at 11:12 AM on November 9, 2009

However he does it, he needs to do it before his six month mark so he can get discharged for an failure to adapt.
posted by bigmusic at 11:15 AM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If has completed less than 180 days of military service he may be able to apply for an Entry-level separation . Outside of that his choices may be few. A dishonorable discharge, less than honorable discharge or bad conduct discharge would mean he had been court-martialled and had the punishment handed down, likely as part of a prison term in a military jail. Is that what you and he really want?

Is it possible he is just going through what many recruits go through during basic and infantry training and that once he is with his unit things will settle down? I always believe 17 is too young for someone to enlist with (or without) parental permission. It ain't for everyone, that's for certain, but he certainly has avenues for counseling and the chaplains office is probably as good a place to start as any.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2009

Nth desertion as a good way to serve out the rest of his service time in a prison.
posted by bigmusic at 11:18 AM on November 9, 2009

I think it's great that you want to support your brother. I think that the first thing you need to do is gather information. The US military can be daunting for civilians to navigate (and as a dependent, I can say it's daunting for dependents and active duty folks, too) but there is a wealth of support networks and information providers out there to specifically help you with these questions. I'd start by Googling "marine corps family support" and similar phrases. Spend a few hours reading the message boards and FAQs. Find out what base your brother is at and learn about it online. You should be able figure out what support and counseling services are available to him pretty easily. While notoriously tough on their recruits, the US Marine Corps is required to provide him these services and you can help your brother track them down.

When my cousin joined the Army last year and went to basic, his mother received a loooong letter from his commander detailing what she could expect, what he should expect, and what resources were out there for them as a family. Yes, I think you should approach the information you are being given with an open mind and a grain of salt, considering the soure, but it's there for the asking. Did your family receive anything like that?

I bet a LOT of the men and women in your brother's basic training group sent out similar cries for help this week. It's an expected result of the incredibly challenging training they are going through. I am not condoning that; I'm just saying that you can take a deep breath and know that your brother is reacting normally to the situation he is in. Basically, he is probably feeling exactly how he is supposed to feel under the circumstances.

Stay in touch with him. Write him letters, send him cards, and let him know you are thinking about him. It makes a big difference to getting through the process and every little bit helps. His days, especially at the beginning, are very, very structured. Having 5 minutes to breath and read a post card from you might mean the world to him.

I don't know how he gets out if he wants out, but if you have the time and inclination to learn about all of his options, I bet it would help him and you get through this. What he really needs at the end of the day is your support no matter what. There are lots and lots of ways you can provide that and it sounds like you're poised to do it.

He should not, under any circumstances, desert. It will end poorly and so much worse than if he goes through the approved channels. His life is not in danger. He is not a hostage. He may not be cut out for the Marines. The Marines can help you both figure out what he needs to do next.

I'm sorry for the long comment. Good luck to both of you.
posted by juliplease at 11:22 AM on November 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

Oh, and he's probably at Parris Island.
posted by juliplease at 11:27 AM on November 9, 2009

I can't help much in the way of advice for getting out, but if he's in South Carolina and fresh out of boot camp, he's probably at Parris Island.
posted by chiababe at 11:31 AM on November 9, 2009

I've known several people who have gotten out of the military by faking suicide attempts.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:06 PM on November 9, 2009

Jesus, don't do that
posted by Think_Long at 12:18 PM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

There are several ways people can lie to get out of the military. The problem with most of those ways is that they cost the system to spend time, money, and other resources on them (up to and including hospitalization/institutionalization) rather than on the people who actually need those services. It may also encourage some superiors to incorrectly interpret future real emergencies as false attempts made out of understandable desperation.

I'm not trying to pick a fight with you, infinitywaltz. It's just frustrating and scary to hear about suicidal people who don't get taken seriously.
posted by juliplease at 12:18 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If his reasons for wanting out are moral objection to war then these folks may be able to help

The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors
posted by tman99 at 12:20 PM on November 9, 2009

If your brother has already graduated from boot camp and is at infantry training, then he's probably in North Carolina and not South Carolina. Parris Island is solely for basic training, and there are no other Marine Corps training installations in South Carolina. Camp Lejeune in NC is home to the School of Infantry East.

So, first I'd recommend finding out where exactly he is and what exactly type of training he is undergoing right now.

Also make sure that he seriously does want to get out and is not just temporarily frustrated or in the "wait, WTF am I doing?" phase that more than a few people go through but get over when they grow more accustomed to their new lifestyle. Getting out before your time is up is not simple and easy, so make sure of what he wants.

Do not encourage him to desert. It's a felony. Article 85 of the UCMJ, Desertion. Look at the section that describes the penalties. Bad idea.

And note that an entry-level separation is what would look best for him (rather than having a dishonorable discharge on his record, for example) but an ELS is only a type of discharge. He has to actually do something to make them want to discharge him before 180 days for him to receive an ELS. Not to be flippant, but I'd think mental health issues are the way to go for that - he'd need to be talking about his difficulties with a chaplain or military shrink, and talking a lot.
posted by lullaby at 12:29 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Army vet here.

What your brother is feeling is normal. Boot camp and AIT are generally designed to be the most horrible things a young person has ever experienced, ever. And while you're there, it is. It is designed to simulate the stresses of combat. The methodology has been refined for centuries. What the drill sergeants do works, and works well.

But it is not military life. It's not even close. It's all a game, and he'll see that in time. It is all a game.

Your brother is not going to get out of the military unless he is seriously injured (and by serious I mean losing a limb) or commits a felony. (Murder or rape, specifically, whereupon he trades an at-worst unpleasant six years for a lifetime in Ft. Leavenworth.)

Lying won't work. We've been at war for eight years, and that's just this war. Any lie you can think of has been tried a thousand times over. JAG has seen it all. Lying about sexuality won't work, lying about financial hardship won't work, lying about being a conscientious objector won't work. Entry-level separation will not work. Nothing will work. You don't just walk into the commander's office and say, "I've found God! I'm a conscientious objector!" These things are investigated thoroughly by men and women who've spent a career spotting deception. And when he's spotted for being a fraud, he'd better hope God is on his side, because he's going to need it.

(Oh, and faking a suicide attempt is as bad an idea as desertion. Assuming he doesn't die, he'll first be placed on suicide watch -- that is days of 24/7 visual observation by someone within arm's reach, to include the bathroom, etc, and then he'll be put in counseling. If the counselor doesn't see through the deception -- and he or she probably will -- that's still not an automatic out.)

I don't mean to be glib, but the easiest way out of a military contract is to complete it.

His feelings are normal.

Here is what you need to do: Be supportive. Write letters, send care packages, call when he's allowed telephone privileges. And be supportive. He doesn't need to hear about the leaking roof or dad's depression. Everything is great, we miss you lots, we're proud of you and believe in you. We're jealous of you. You're a hero to little Billy, who even got a buzz cut to be like you.

You get the picture.

Here is what you should NOT do: Offer even a glimmer of hope that you might be able to help him. Because you can't. And don't entertain desertion. See my earlier point about prison.

Once he's away from the drill sergeants and the smoke sessions and the yelling, once he reports to his first duty station, he'll have a new perspective on things. The brutal harshness will disappear. He might even start to love the service. (And he might yet hate it, but the point is he'll hate it for different reasons.)

Buy a case of beer and gather a group of ex-military. There will be idle reminiscences about the war. There will be gossip about this or that. And there will definitely be stories about boot camp.

It's a rite of passage. It's a miserable experience. But he'll get through. He just needs you to believe in him.
posted by dbgrady at 12:35 PM on November 9, 2009 [41 favorites]

I was in the USMC Reserve for six years, and I want to second some of the things dbgrady wrote. By far, boot camp and infantry training is the worst of it. It's supposed to be that way. While I never enjoyed my time in the USMC, and I spent quite a bit of time on active duty (Thank you, George Bush!), tell him that things will get better.

The main motivation that kept me going to my reserve drills (and it's much easier to get out of the reserves: people generally just stopped showing up) was the fact that I didn't want getting a bad discharge to ruin the rest of my life, thus compounding the error I made in joining in the first place. Tell your brother you support him and you don't want to see him ruin the rest of his life. Over time, being a Marine does get easier. He'll see.
posted by elder18 at 1:33 PM on November 9, 2009

I'm not trying to pick a fight with you, infinitywaltz. It's just frustrating and scary to hear about suicidal people who don't get taken seriously.

In retrospect, that was probably not a good one-line answer on my part, and I apologize for that. To be clear, though I do know people who have faked suicide attempts, it's definitely not something I'd recommend for the reasons you point out (as well as other unintended consequences).

I also know someone who simply deserted, and after a fairly long and protracted legal process was eventually able to get himself declared unfit for duty due to mental health reasons (years after he initially went AWOL). However, as dbgrady points out above, we've been at war for eight years, and even what worked for my acquaintances during peacetime (not that I'd even recommend it then) probably isn't going to work now.

Again, I didn't mean to be flippant, and I apologize for coming off that way.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:38 PM on November 9, 2009

dbgrady has it right.

I know you want to be the 'hero' big brother and get your little bro out of his situation, but really it wouldn't be doing him any favors. He made his choice and he needs to live with it. I think you can make things easier for him by sending care packages and calling him whenever you can, but you shouldn't try to help him 'get out of it'.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:59 PM on November 9, 2009

Can he find another guy to make out with him in front of his commanding officer?
posted by HabeasCorpus at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2009

I'd just like to say that, even though it was probably said in jest,

"Seriously, I know nothing about the military ...... having come from a long line of cowards."

Not knowing about the millitary or involving yourself in it does not make yourself (or your family) a coward.
posted by lalochezia at 4:38 PM on November 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

This is one of those times where you just need to be a supportive listener, not where you need to get active and go fix the problem. Let him vent without taking those gripes literally. Seriously, my husband is always wanting to fix problems and I finally figured out he didn't know that just listening to me vent was what I needed. That I really didn't literally want help getting my boss dropped off a cliff or whatever.

Also, dbgrady sounds like she/he has great insight and you should definitely listen to him or her.
posted by JenMarie at 4:46 PM on November 9, 2009

(Are we really comfortable with using the US military's backwards policies towards gays as a "trick" to get out of the Marines?)

(And no, desertion really, really isn't the answer.)

That said, what little I know about the Marines is that they are probably the toughest branch of service to adapt to. They are, for lack of a better analogy, the scrappy little brother of the armed forces. (I mean that positively, not negatively- their mission is a tough one, and they are going to prove they have what it takes and more. And possibly like it.) And culturally, this means that they are going to do more of that "break you down to build you up" kinds of things. Once one is a Marine, they are a Marine forever, so the training has to be good.

So, what you need to determine is if he's really, truly not cut out for it, and pursue the "failure to adapt) thing. Or if he is just venting, be supportive. Depending on the relationship, one way might be to get him to tell you about the positives of his training and future prospects, and maybe he will convince himself he belongs as he is telling you about it?

And I'm pretty sure tomorrow (the 10th) is the birthday of the Corps. Maybe the celebrations and fellowship will change his tune.

(And as the grandson of a Marine, and a citizen, tell him thank you for signing up- if it's not his thing, I think we are all better off that he realize it now and not when the stakes get much higher. There is no shame at all in trying and failing.)
posted by gjc at 5:38 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

If he's really miserable, can he talk to a chaplain, or ask for assistance w/ potential depression? Any comment from any USMC vets welcome.
posted by theora55 at 7:31 PM on November 9, 2009

Can he just leave or is there some special process?

This is not a mysterious secret. He signed a contract. The details are in the contract he signed. The obligation is taken very seriously.

I would guess that he was being homesick, dramatic, etc., so you might try being supportive and interested in his day-to-day life, and hold back on counseling him to desert or get a dishonorable discharge -- those are pretty serious decisions which will have a lot of negative consequences for him, for his entire life. Start asking him questions that will allow him to share all the new things going on in his world.

Does he really have to do lots of pushups and run laps with a gun and a backpack? What's it like living in the barracks? Do Marines really do more before 9AM then most of us do all day? Where does he hope to go after basic training? Is he becoming compulsively disciplined? What kind of home-cooked meals does he miss the most? My point is, ask him to share more so he focuses less on what he's hating right now, and more on what he's learning and experiencing and where he's headed.

You might also have an older relative call him or write him a letter with some support and words of wisdom. You said you come from a long line of cowards, but surely there is someone in your family who was drafted and served? That person could write him or call him, and tell him remembered stories about when they were in training, and how hard it was, and what jerks they thought the sergeants were, and how wonderful it was when training was over, and how much better military service was after that, and how the military ultimately gave him skills/outlook/experience/discipline that served him well for the rest of his life.

Be proud of your brother. He's serving for us.
posted by Houstonian at 7:34 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

comment from a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous.
Please, please don't do this. Encourage him to spend more time getting used to it, and encourage him not to give up. He is not in high school anymore, and may not realize the very real consequences of his actions.

My husband joined the Navy directly out of high school, and after boot camp, didn't want to continue. He wasn't really adapting, and he had a girlfriend back home. He tried everything to get out of the Navy, and is still facing the consequences for it.

First, he went AWOL/UA. Rather than report to his assigned post after boot camp, he just went home to his parents'. He lied to them and told them that he had some time off before having to report. Eight days later, the police showed up, and of course, he was arrested. After that, he was forced to report to his post.

He was still determined to get out of the military. I don't know all the details of this part (hearing about it makes me a little uncomfortable), but he told his commanding officers that he was going to kill himself if forced to stay in the Navy. He was taken to a mental hospital and had to stay overnight, after which he was freaked out enough to say he was fine, and went back.

Then, he went to a Naval psychiatrist. He was upfront with him and told him that he desperately wanted to get out of the Navy, and that he was depressed and had suicidal ideations. The psychiatrist prescribed him Trazodone and told him to wait it out a few more days, he would see what he could do. At some point between the AWOL thing and the psychiatrist, the girl back home broke up with him.

A day or two later, his Master Chief pulled him into his office, and asked him, point blank, if he really wanted to leave. He said they would start the discharge papers and have him home by the end of the week, due to suicidal tendencies and failure to adapt.

For some reason, he said no. He said he wanted to stay in for the remainder of his contract. As time passed, it turned out that he wanted to make a career out of it, and he is in the Navy to this day.

As I alluded to above, it has had consequences. He was turned down for the Personnel Reliability Program, meaning he cannot have any access to nuclear weapons. Considering he works with nuclear submarines, this has been a huge problem. The reasons listed on his PRP denial are specifically his suicidal tendencies, and having gone AWOL. After going to Captain's Mast for going AWOL, he was forced to enter the service at the lowest pay grade (E-1), and promotions and raises have been slow going.

He says to this day that trying so hard to get out of the military is his life's biggest regret. It has had real, tangible consequences. He was only 18, and didn't realize how much his actions could matter in the future.

Please, encourage your brother to stay in. Encourage your brother to do his best and strive for excellence. His contract is only for 4 years -- you can do ANYTHING for 4 years. He will be so proud of himself and develop so much character by soldiering through this (pardon the turn of phrase). He won't learn anything except how to take the easy way out if he leaves. And if he does try to leave, and changes his mind, like my husband did, he'll end up with a whole new, complicated series of regrets.
posted by jessamyn at 7:55 AM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

One important thing to remember is that getting a dishonorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge is something that can really f*ck things up for him in the future. That will look as bad as a felony conviction to many employers and schools.

He can get through this. There is excellent advice upthread. Seeing his service through with a good record will open up a lot of doors in the future, and will also give him access to many military benefits. While I definitely believe the services aren't for everyone, once you're in, you're in. They literally own title to you. Tell him to keep his head up, to work through this, and remember that it's only temporary. And tell him not to do anything that can haunt him for the rest of his life.
posted by azpenguin at 8:13 AM on November 10, 2009

I just want to add to the other good advice about sticking it out. Except to say that maybe he should check in with a Marine psychologist or someone like that and work through his issues with someone experienced in dealing with it. Because just as trying to get out in the wrong way will have serious consequences, staying in for the wrong reasons or without having gotten his mind right about it, can also have serious consequences. If he's really in trouble, a badly manifested breakdown can have all those bad consequences and more. Stress does really weird things to otherwise normal people.
posted by gjc at 4:49 PM on November 10, 2009

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