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?"
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 free college, then a cushy desk 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 your head shaved, then get chased around and screamed at by some wacky guy with a big hat, you got slotted into the Infantry, digging trenches and filling sandbags. And now you've been assigned to a crappy base in the middle of nowhere, your barracks are crappy, the food is unpalatable, and you just found out you're being deployed to a Bleak Border Base or to some burning hot desert on the other side of the world for the next year and a half. Free college? You can take online courses in your off-hours. How could the recruiter let this happen to you?!
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. Note that this trope also applies to recruitment advertisements, known for pushing a convincingly glamorized depiction of the military that downplays the risk of violent death.
Truth in Television, unfortunately. Also Older Than Dirt, as the ancient Egyptian text Instructions of the Scribe Wenemdiamun (ca. 1878-1839 BCE) describes in detail how lousy the soldier's life was as a pushback against the trope. It finishes with "Be a scribe, and be spared from soldiering!"
- Some recruitment commercials can get a little absurd, like this one for the American Marines which feature a giant sci-fi style assault course, magic swords, and a huge cgi monster all trying to imply that American Marines are some sort of superhero (hopefully no recruits take such things seriously).
- The Ballad of Halo Jones has a whole chapter dedicated to this trope, where Halo re-reads her recruitment pamphlet as ironic narration to a flashback montage of her training. When the montage ends, it's shown she's on a drop ship in a spacesuit, about to be deployed, right after she's found the spot in the pamphlet she remembered where it said 40% of recruits never see combat.
Sarge: "Don't worry, Jones. I'm sure your chute-suit will be one of the 60% that open before they hit the ground."
- G.I. Joe
- Heavy weapons specialist Roadblock enlisted after a recruiter, awed by his size, told the aspiring chef he could learn to cook in the army. Roadblock transferred to infantry very quickly, having found army kitchens and menus substandard at best.
- Crankcase was a stock car racer who felt bored by his work. That's when he was spotted by "a recruiting sergeant with a crooked smile" and promised "speed and glory". Crankcase does get to drive pretty fast in the A.W.E. Striker, but he's far from satisfied with the slow pace of everyday military life.
- Marshal Law the titular Anti-Hero was originally inspired by his childhood hero to become a hero like him, recruited to fight in "The Zone" and.....ended as shell shocked veteran, who hates "heroes" (including himself).
- From Bajor to the Black: Kanril Eleya is asked by Jake Sisko why she joined Starfleet and dishes on the ads' truthfulness.
The lifestyle? Oh, Hell no! Let's face it, it sucks a lot of the time. The "strange new worlds" they show you in the recruitment vids are the good days; the rest of them are "woohoo, another average star with a bunch of dead rocks orbiting it".
- 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.
- At the start of The Scavengers, one of the troopers is singing a song about the lies he was told before joining; primarily "the cavalry ride horse, walk in infantry". It soon transpires that several members of the troop are walking because their horses have died.
- Solo. Han joins the Imperial military to become a pilot. The recruiter tells him "We'll have you flying in no time!" Gilligan Cut to Han getting blown through the air as a trooper on a muddy battlefield three years later. In fairness, he had been assigned to flight training as promised, but was demoted to Cannon Fodder for reasons Han doesn't really explain.note
- 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.
- 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?"
- Bill the Galactic Hero (a specific parody of Starship Troopers) features an over-the-top parody example who recruits Bill using every tactic from Blatant Lies to hypnosis. And then a Distant Finale shows that Bill ends his military career as an ethics-free recruiting sergeant who uses the same tactics to recruit his younger brother.
- This is spoofed in various Discworld novels, most obviously in Monstrous Regiment.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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%.
- The Saga of Tanya the Evil: Tanya tries to defy this trope when she is tasked with creating an advertisement for a new battalion of mages that she is going to lead. Since Tanya doesn't want the job, she has the advertisement emphasize how miserable and horrific the detail will be in the hopes of deterring potential candidates. However what Tanya didn't take into account was that the military would instead see it as a Dare to Be Badass advert and she gets absolutely flooded with requests from people to join her battalion.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Altered Carbon. Jaegar tells the protagonist Takeshi Kovacs that if he volunteers for C-TAC, his sister will be placed in foster care with a good family. Whether Jaegar is responsible for selling her to the Yakuza is unknown, but his insistence that Kovacs never contact Reileen, ostensibly to protect her from retaliation, implies that he knew about it. This one backfires as when Kovacs discovers the truth (during a C-TAC raid on a Yakuza stronghold he finds his sister there) brother and sister instantly join forces against their former employers.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- Saturday Night Live: One parody commercial depicts the Navy Experience as a tad more mundane than the real ads would lead you to believe.
It's not just a job. It's $96.78 a week.
- 21 Jump Street: Judy, an undercover cop, has an interview at the P.R. department of the police, who make it seem it is a glamorous job. When she gets the job, it turns out to consist of her having to wear a milk carton suit and helping children cross the road. The only reason she applied for the job in the first place, was that Jump Street was disbanded, but luckily the program and team was continued again, and she quickly and happily returned to Jump Street.
- The Billy Connolly song "Sergeant Where's Mine." 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.
"Not I," said the baker, "Nor I," said the tailor,
- Marching Through Rochester:
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."
T'was Britannia bade our Wild Geese go, that small nations might be free
- 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, such as The Foggy Dew:
But their lonely graves stand by Suvla's waves, or the fringes of the great North Sea.
The biscuits in the Army
- This is the whole point of the old army song "Gee Mom, I Want To Go Home". Each verse has two lines relating what recruits are told, followed by an exaggerated description of the fact. For example:
They say are mighty fine,
One rolled off the table,
And killed a pal of mine.
- Also "Arthur McBride" in which the sergeant promises gold and women and good food but the two cousins refuse, knowing they would only get shot.
- Hero of War by Rise Against: A recruiter sells the singer on joining the military by offering him the chance to get paid for seeing the world. Nowhere in the pitch does the recruiter mention the various atrocities the singer eventually commits in the name of fighting for his country.
- "Barrett's Privateers" by Stan Rogers: Captain Barrett promises a cushy gig with no fighting and plenty of loot. Disaster ensues. The betrayal is reiterated in every chorus
God damn them all! I was told
We'd cruise the seas for American gold
We'd fire no guns, shed no tears
Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett's privateers.
- "Song for Cindy Sheehan" by David Rovics:
He wouldn't have to fight
Cindy hoped this was the case
And prayed for him every night
That was before they sent him
To the desert with a gun
She is every mother
And he was every mother's son
- 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.
- The Canadian War Museum's older Choose Your Own Adventure game Armoured Warrior (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.
- 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.
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, troops at Fort Frostmoth in Bloodmoon (a frozen Reassigned to Antarctica assignment) will sometimes say a variation of the classic lying recruiter pitch "join the (service), see the world!" as idle banter.
"Join the Legion! See the world!" Freeze your arse..."
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: Satirised with the fake military recruitment ads during the opening scene that are based on the style of real ones, exaggerated with tons of psychedelia and Deliberate Values Dissonance. Notably, the ads, like real ads, repeatedly use video game-like imagery like First-Person Perspective and unthinking, unbleeding, identical enemies — in some ways, a comment on video games being used to recruit young people into fighting real wars.
- 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."
- Sleepless Domain: A recruitment poster sent out by the Board of Magical Girls lists various benefits to entice young girls to register as Magical Girl Warriors (read: Child Soldiers) and defend the city, playing up the exciting and glamorous aspects of the job as much as possible. Of course, one of these benefits also happens to be a 70% lower risk of serious injury or death compared to girls who don't register. Make of that what you will.
- Terminal Lance #28: "False Advertising." First panel: Marine grunt in combat. Second panel: Three Marines in dress uniform with ceremonial rifles, with the "The Few. The Proud." recruiting slogan across it. Third panel: Guy in fatigues standing in front of a recruiting poster with a mop. The Rant even says that "making fun of the cheesy recruiting commercials is one of the favorite pass times [sic] of Marines."
Mop guy: Well, anything seems cool if you say it like that...
- 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."
- 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.
- Ned's Newt: An army recruitment message looks more like a travel bureau ad, so much that the enthusiastic Newton ends up enlisting Ned into it without his knowledge.
- Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles: Rico and Dizzy end up on Pluto under-equipped, 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.Lisa: (worried) This wasn't in the brochure.