oh Sergeant is this the adventures you meant,
When I put my name down on the line
All that talk of computers, and sunshine and skis
I'm asking you Sergeant, where's mine?"
— Billy Connolly: "Sergeant Where's Mine?"
So, you've graduated high school, and now you're ready to tackle the world! And what better way to do so than by doing a few years in the Army? The recruiter, who is totally trustworthy and would never mislead you
, explained the whole thing to you. You ship out for Basic, get some cushy job in Intel or something, and you can get stationed in Hawaii or Germany, and you get all these great benefits!
Except that's not the case. You ship off to Basic, get chased around and screamed at
by some wacky guy with a big hat
, you got slotted into the Infantry
, you've been assigned to a crappy base in some redneck part of the Deep South
, your barracks are crappy, the food is worse, and you just found out you're being deployed to some burning hot desert on the other side of the world for the next year and a half. How could the recruiter let this happen to you!?
A sister trope to "Join the Army," They Said
, which is about the recruitment pitches themselves, although the Stock Phrase
itself is likely to be used in regard to this trope. It is worth noting that not all recruiters are like this, but amongst the military, they can have a reputation not entirely unlike that of Honest John's Dealership
. See also Fence Painting
- Pretty much the entire premise of Private Benjamin:
Judy Benjamin: I think they sent me to the wrong place.
Capt. Lewis: Uh-huh.
Judy Benjamin: See, I did join the army, but I joined a different army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.
- Discussed in We Were Soldiers: During a lull in the fighting, Sergeant Major Plumley half-jokingly asks Lieutenant Colonel Moore: "Kinda makes you wish you'd signed up for Submarines, don't it?"
- Averted in Winter's Bone: The recruiter (played by an actual army recruiter) realizes quickly that Ree is simply desperate for money and has no idea what she's getting into. He calmly lists all the reasons why signing her up would be a really bad idea and rejects her.
- From Stripes
Russell Ziskey: I'm gonna kill you, damn you! Where's the great pay? Where's the travel? Where's the Winnebago, Goddamnit!
- Ironically, they eventually get assigned to Italy to guard a weaponized Winnebago.
- This is spoofed in various Discworld novels, most obviously in Monstrous Regiment.
- Starship Troopers: Inverted, where the man working at the front desk of the recruiting center is missing both legs and has a prosthetic hand (which he shakes Rico's hand with to intentionally induce squick). Rico runs into him later walking down the street after leaving work, and the recruiter explains that him working without his prosthetic legs on is just one more thing they do to try and scare people off who don't really want to join.
- Not quite as odd as it looks: completing a tour of duty is the only way to become a full citizen of that society, so there's a law that says the military has to accept every single recruit who volunteers, irrespective of any possible suitability for the job (though, just like in most real volunteer armies, the job you think you're volunteering for may not be the job you actually wind up getting). The trick is to minimize the number of less than ideal recruits.
- In the movie, while performing said handshake, the recruiter even says "Mobile Infantry made me the man I am today". One of the few things from the book to make it into the movie unchanged.
- Subverted in the Farsala Trilogy. Despite Kavi's best attempts to find any lies in Patrius' claims, Patrius is completely open about every single aspect of being a spy and what will happen to Farsala if the Hrum win the war.
- In the StarCraft novel I, Mengsk, the protagonist Arcturus Mengsk joins the marines, after the recruiter, a gorgeous captain, told him recruits have a 25% chance of seeing combat. She later mentioned, after he becomes a lieutenant and is about to see combat for the first time, that most recruits never pass basic training or even die or are badly maimed in training. The chances of a successful recruit seeing combat is nearly 100%.
- In the Time Wars novels, Temporal Corps recruiting presentations involve the more attractive soldiers, many of whom have never seen actual combat, dressing up in pretty historical costumes. The series regulars bitterly note how this bears almost no resemblance to their actual duties, which frequently involve being on freezing, muddy battlefields, disguised as peasants in lice-ridden clothing.
- In the Sharpe series, new recruits are promised a reward of 7 pounds, a considerable sum in the early nineteenth century, only to be either tricked or coerced into signing a document which declares them to have spent it on uniform and supplies.
- Gentleman Ranker: Big Jack O'Hara is giving a speech about the glories of Army life to a tavern full of London lowlifes when Stephen meets him. He then convinces Trent to join, implying that it will be a similar situation to the one his uncle offered.
- There is a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch about a soldier who is shocked to find out that people might be shooting at him in the army. He joined for the water-skiing.
- In the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "Private Plane", Blackadder tries to join the Royal Flying Corps after being told their nickname 'The Twenty Minuters' refers to the average amount of time they spend in combat. It actually refers to the average life expectancy of a new pilot.
- He also originally joined the army when England was mainly fighting colonial wars against greatly outmatched opponents. The idea of an enemy actually having a gun had never come up prior to World War I.
- The 5.50 mark of this clip from Sharpe's Regiment.
- One of the earlier episodes of NCIS involving the murder of a recruiter brings this trope up (telling one recruit that joining the Marines would help him become a paramedic when the Marine Corps medics are actually Naval personnel, or telling another who had no chance of entering the commissioning program otherwise). Ultimately turns out to be a Red Herring with the real murderer taking revenge for having been denied entry in the first place.
- In JAG (season 5 "Promises") a young female sailor is court-martialed for going AWOL after she simply had enough of swabbing the deck of a destroyer. When she signed up at the recruiter she was almost promised education as an air traffic controller, but she didn't Read the Fine Print of the contract which stated "subject upon availability and to the needs of the Navy".
- The Billy Connolly song "Sergeant Where's Mine" that provides the page quote. Inspiration struck when he walked past a recruiting station and noticed that nowhere in the photos of soldiers partying and having fun were there any of dead bodies. It's about a poor private who is now lying in a grimy hospital bed, and lamenting that despite what the sergeant said all he has is no medals, and a lot of bad memories from being shot at or having to do questionable things.
- Many traditional folksongs have shades of this.
- Marching Through Rochester:
"Not I," said the baker, "Nor I," said the tailor,
And most of the crowd with them did all agree
''To be paid with the powder and rattle of the cannonball
Wages for soldiers like Marlborough and thee."
- The 18th-century Twa Recruiting Sergeants overemphasizes the hardships of a Scottish farmer's life — he won't have to plow, have his horse go lame or listen to his baby's screaming.
- The WWI-era Recruiting Sergeant follows a dialogue between an Irish civilian and an English recruiter. Many Irish songs of this period contrast the high causes of the war with the treatment the Irish received at the time.
T'was Britannia bade our Wild Geese go, that small nations might be free
But their lonely graves stand by Suvla's waves, or the fringes of the great North Sea.
- Also "Arthur Mc Bride" in which the sergeant promises gold and women and good food but the two cousin refuse, knowing they would only get shot.
- The Status Quo song In The Army Now starts with lines like "A vacation in the foreign land" and "Now you remember what the draft man said. Nothing to do all day but stay in bed", but as the song progresses the harsh realities of being in the army are quickly brought up.
- There is an Irish ballad called "The Foggy Dew", which contains the lyrics: "'Twas England bade our Wild Geese go 'That small nations might be free'/but their graves are by Sulva's graves on the fringe of the great North Sea./But had they died by Pearse's side/or with Valera true,/their graves we would keep where Fenians sleep 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew."
- The Army recruiters in A Piece Of My Heart convince Leeann and Sissy with a) tons of fancy equipment, b) gorgeous hospitals, and c) the promise that they'd have to volunteer for Vietnam––otherwise, they could work in somewhere like Germany or Hawaii if they so pleased. Riiiiiiiiiiight.
- Dragon Age: Origins: Duncan doesn't lie per se about the dangers of being a Grey Warden, but he does leave out critical details about it. Namely, the initiation rite has a good chance of killing you, and if you pass, Your Days Are Numbered. It's pretty standard practice among the Grey Wardens, who view it as an unfortunate necessity for their order. In some cases, recruits are forcibly conscripted.
- WarCraft II: The Footman's Stop Poking Me quotes are thus; "Join the army, they said … See the world, they said … I'd rather be sailing."
- The Canadian War Museum's older Choose Your Own Adventure game Armoured Arrior (about a troop corporal of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers in the Falaise Gap), after one of your tanks becomes bogged down and C Squadron is diverted to help the Polish detachment, your tank's gunner says, "First we lose a tank, and now we lose an entire squadron. I say we join the Navy!"
- Deadlock: The Deadlock Song, an easter egg of sorts buried in the game's data files, is a humorous description of the dangers of each of the game's races through the eyes of a very disillusioned human colonist who was not told any of this by the recruiter.
If I ever get back home again,
if I ever get back home again,
if I ever get back home again,
that recruiter's gonna die.
- Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles: Rico and Dizzy end up on Pluto under-equiped, undermanned and under duress from swarms of killer bugs. Flash to a recruitment campaign with the idealised setting and the impression that killing bugs on Pluto would be a walk in the park.
- From The Simpsons:
Military Commandant: Meet the Eliminator. That's a 150-foot hand-over-hand crawl across a sixty-gauge hemp-jute line with a blister factor of twelve. The rope is suspended a full forty feet over a solid British acre of old-growth Connecticut Valley thorn bushes. Gentlemen, welcome to flavor country.
: (worried) This wasn't in the brochure.
- In the Disney Wartime Cartoon Donald Gets Drafted, Donald Duck passes a series of posters on his way to the recruitment office, saying how cushy and glamorous the modern army supposedly is. Upon arriving, he goes through a humilliating health exam, and after passing is sent to march under Drill Sergeant Nasty Pete.
- When Sergeant Extreme and Major Awesome of the military visit Chris's school in Family Guy, they show a video of hot chicks and a soldier diving into a pile of money. A disclaimer quickly notes your experience may differ but it works on a good chunk of the school anyway.
- One episode of Beavis and Butt-Head involved them talking to an army recruiter for the entire episode. He showed them a recruitment video that played more like a music video, with the tagline: "We're looking for a few good headbangers."