For years, the military has offered its recruits free tuition, specialized training, and a host of other benefits to compensate for the tremendous sacrifices they are called upon to make. Lately, many of them have been taking advantage of another perk: free cosmetic surgery.Notwithstanding the benefit of free cosmetic surgery -- perhaps because it is little known, as "there is no mention of it in any of the recruiting literature" (Schaler, July 26, 2004) -- the Army has had trouble keeping up recruitment and retention to fulfill its increased missions due to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq:
"Anyone wearing a uniform is eligible," Dr. Bob Lyons, the chief of plastic surgery at Brooke Army Medical Center, said recently, in his office in San Antonio. It is true: personnel in all four branches of the military and members of their immediate families can get face-lifts, nose jobs, breast enlargements, liposuction, or any other kind of elective cosmetic alteration, at taxpayer expense. (For breast enlargements, patients must supply their own implants.) There is no limit on the number of cosmetic surgeries one soldier can have, although, Lyons said, "we don't do extreme makeovers in the military." The commanding officer has to approve the time off for any soldier who is having surgery. For most procedures, there's at least a ten-day recovery period, and while soldiers are recuperating they’re on paid medical leave rather than vacation.
A Defense Department spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the plastic-surgery benefit. According to the Army, between 2000 and 2003 its doctors performed four hundred and ninety-six breast enlargements and a thousand three hundred and sixty-one liposuction surgeries on soldiers and their dependents. In the first three months of 2004, it performed sixty breast enhancements and two hundred and thirty-one liposuctions.
Mario Moncada, an Army private who was recently treated for losing the vision in one eye in Iraq, said that he knows several female soldiers who have received free breast enlargements: "We're out there risking our lives. We deserve benefits like that."
Janis Garcia, a former lieutenant commander and jag attorney in the Navy, who is married to a retired Navy fighter pilot, says she grew up hating the way she looked. "I wouldn't even smile in my own wedding pictures." She checked in to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego for a nose job, a chin realignment, and a jaw reconstruction, free of charge. She also had her teeth straightened. "It changed my appearance drastically, and I became a more confident person," she said. "It literally changed the direction of my life." The doctors told her the work she had done would have cost her nearly a hundred thousand dollars. ("Chest Out, Stomach In: All That You Can Be," The New Yorker, July 26, 2004, posted online on July 19, 2004)
[T]he Army has been forced to bring more new recruits immediately into the ranks to meet recruiting goals for 2004, instead of allowing them to defer entry until the next accounting year, which starts in October.
As a result, recruiters will enter the new year without the usual cushion of incoming soldiers, making it that much harder to make their quotas for 2005. Instead of knowing the names of nearly half the coming year's expected arrivals in October, as the Army did last year, or even the names of around one in three, as is the normal goal, this October the recruiting command will have identified only about one of five of the boot camp class of 2005 in advance.
Army officials say that they have been unable to defer as many enlistments as in the past because 4,500 more recruits were needed at midyear to help meet a temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers in the active duty force, which is to grow to 512,000 by 2006. The increases are largely driven by the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . .
In recent weeks, the Army has said it will recruit thousands of sailors and airmen who are otherwise scheduled to leave the Navy and Air Force because of cutbacks. Starting this month, the Army may delay the retirements of soldiers with at least 20 years' experience if they are in jobs that face critical staffing shortages. The Army's top training forces at Fort Polk, La., and Fort Irwin, Calif., are being deployed for the first time, to Iraq, raising concerns among some officers that troops will not be given the most strenuous preparation possible before they leave the United States. . . .
Once soldiers initially enlist, they usually wait one month to one year before they formally enlist and are shipped to basic training. As of June 30, there were 2,260 recruits in the delayed entry program, down from 12,236 recruits a year ago.
By dipping into this personnel bank, some recruiting officials said, the Army is eating its seed corn. "They are stealing from the future to accomplish their current accession mission," said one Army recruiting official, referring to the enlisted recruits sent to basic training. (Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, "Army to Call Up Recruits Earlier," New York Times, July 22, 2004)