Investigators: Local soldiers say they didn't sign to serve

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by By CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 2:59 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 18 at 11:48 AM

Video: Local soldiers say they didn't sign to serve

SEATTLE - Within months of 9/11 and when it became clear that America was headed for a ground war, former U.S. Army infantryman Keith Jackson left his comfortable civilian job in the Seattle area to shoulder a rifle for the second time.

Jackson signed up and deployed with the Washington National Guard and saw almost daily combat as Iraq disintegrated into chaos in 2004.

"I felt very strongly about this war as far as my participation," said Sgt. Jackson. "I wanted to try to make a bit of a difference if I could."

When his tour ended, Jackson went to work for a private security firm in Iraq and says he later re-upped to be on-call with the Guard for one more year.

When that year was over, he said: "I felt that I'd done my part, that I'd served my country."

But Jackson says someone at the Guard showed him a two-year re-enlistment contract which recruiters supposedly witnessed him sign.

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"The people that said they swore me in weren't the ones that swore me in," he said. "But the first thing that caught my eye was the signature I know what my signature looks like."

Mike Patrick of Orting had problems with a different group of recruiters.

"It was surreal, I could not believe it was happening," he said.

After his service with the Guard ended in 2006, commanders called and said he was AWOL from drills.

"What especially didn't feel good was being called a deserter," Patrick said. "That did not sit well with me."

Patrick never re-enlisted. The signatures and hand-written initials looked nothing like his. Somebody had signed him up for another year.

"I think they need people," Patrick said. "They're down on recruiting and we need people. We have two wars to fight'

Larry Korb, former assistant secretary of defense, says today's citizen soldiers are being used almost as full-time warriors, so recruiting quality personnel has become more difficult.

The most recent study by government investigators, completed in 2006, found recruiter misconduct among the active duty forces to be rare but quickly rising. Investigators couldn't examine misconduct in the Guard because of its de-centralized record-keeping, but Korb says the pressures on recruiters are enormous.

"In the recruiting and retention environment, if they don't meet the numbers they will go down just as if they messed up on the battlefield and ruin their careers," Korb said.

The National Guard counters that recruiting is "strong" and its goals met.

The alleged forgeries are a "rare exception," according to a Washington Guard spokesman who wouldn't appear on camera.

In response to a public records request from the KING 5 Investigators, the Guard said of its 79 recruiters on staff, three have been seriously disciplined for misconduct in the past two years, including two who were kicked out of the Guard.

When Mike Patrick complained, the Guard quickly admitted his documents were forged and granted his discharge.

The Guard denies Jackson's claim. During the second disputed year on his contract he was slapped with a stop loss order which could have forced him to serve for many more years.

Jackson has hired a handwriting expert and a lawyer who questions how re-enlistment papers could have been signed at an Issaquah recruiting office when Jackson's passport shows he was overseas working private security.

"That oath is required by regulation to be given in person, face to face," said Tom Quinlan, of Miller, Quinlan and Auter. "That could not have happened because Keith was in Iraq on June 24, 2006."

Both soldiers say they're proud to have served in the Guard and say they've gone public in case others are serving in silence.

"If this has happened to other soldiers they need to know that they can come forward and do something about it," Jackson said.

Coming forward has paid off for Jackson.

Since the KING 5 Investigators started asking question, the Guard has agreed to settle this case.

Jackson's lawyer says his federal court lawsuit will be dismissed in exchange for Jackson's immediate, honorable discharge.

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