As the war in Iraq worsened and military enlistments flagged, the Army National Guard began a novel bonus program to recruit more troops. That desperation to hit quotas may have cost taxpayers $100 million in fraudulent bonuses by more than a thousand crooked recruiters, a new investigation shows.

Army officials testifying earlier this week before the Senate said the scandal involved as many as 1,200 recruiters, soldiers and civilians taking advantage of the service's mania to put bodies in green suits as the Sunni-Shi'a civil war accelerated in Iraq and U.S. casualties rose.

The way the bonuses—adopted in 2007—worked was this: Any approved military or military-connected person could sign up to be a "recruiting assistant" and get a cash payment from the Army for every "sale" they registered—every recruit credited to their efforts. The New York Times sums it up thus:

Under the program, National Guard soldiers — and their relatives, as well as other civilians and retirees — signed up to be recruiting assistants and could earn up to $7,500 for each new recruit they managed to enlist. But investigators said that in many cases, high school guidance counselors and even principals with access to their students' personal information took credit for recruiting students who they happened to know were joining the Army.

In the end, according to Maj. Gen. David E. Quantock, commanding general of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, fraudulent payments that have already reached $29 million could, by the end of the investigation, come close to $100 million.

There were myriad ways to game that system. Basically, the program incentivized recruiters to greedily take the identities of soldiers they'd already signed up and pass them on to an "assistant," who also took credit for their recruitment, generating an extra bonus that the recruiters could split.

"Other recruiters registered an unwitting person as a recruiting assistant, then substituted their own bank account for direct deposit of the fraudulent bonuses," according to USA Today. At least five soldiers pulled in more than $100,000 each using some version of this scheme; one soldier made $275,000 in bonuses.

The "recruiting assistants" were paid by the Army as contractors working for a company called Docupak, the Washington Post reports:

The Guard promoted the program as an easy way to make money, urging prospective recruitment assistants in a flier to sign up online in "two easy steps" that took just minutes.

Formal Army recruiters were barred from collecting the referral bonus, but many soon realized they could profit from the program undetected, according to documents and officials familiar with the investigation...

The bonuses helped the Army meet its recruitment goals during a crucial period, paying out more than $300 million for roughly 130,000 enlistees.

That comes out to an extra $2,307.69 for each recruit—above and beyond what the Army already pays for each one's recruitment and training through regular military channels.

The current base military pay for a new enlisted recruit, by the way, is $1,430.60 per month.

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