October 03, 2005
Recruitment letter sent to 79-year-old Arabic speaker
By John Hoellwarth
Times staff writer
It would seem Marine Corps Recruiting Command is hard up when a 79-year-old woman in Greensboro, N.C., gets a letter that says her ability to speak fluent Arabic makes her a prime candidate for enlistment.
Fortunately, the letter was a mistake.
When it arrived at the house of Adella Higenbotham Casler, she was more than willing to serve her country. Her first and second husbands served in the military, after all, and so did her son, who was killed in Vietnam.
“If I can do something for my country, no matter the age, if you’re physically and mentally able, I want to do my part,” she said.
Casler wrote back to the Corps, expressing her gratitude for being considered and her willingness to serve, but now the Marine Corps is playing hard to get.
Gunnery Sgt. Alex Quiles, a career recruiter stationed in Greensboro, said there is a maximum age for which the Corps can issue an enlistment waiver and that Casler missed the mark by a slight 45-year margin.
“It would take an act of Congress for this young lady to get in,” he said. “Or maybe if she had parental consent.”
Quiles concluded there was nothing he could do for Casler, even if it was the end of the month and his recruiting station desperately needed to make mission.
Despite Casler’s willingness to follow up on the letter that challenged her to “become one of America’s elite warriors,” Quiles jokingly told Marine Corps Times that he feared being laughed at by fellow recruiters for trying to enlist a 79-year-old woman.
The Corps’ senior career recruiter and occupational field monitor, Master Gunnery Sgt. Preston Ford, whom Quiles described as “the last word in Marine Corps recruiting,” said he was not surprised to hear that Casler harbored concerns about her ability to meet the Marine Corps’ physical demands.
Then, in keeping with the can-do attitude that gives Marine Corps recruiting its reputation, Ford recalled a young woman he’d once enlisted into the President’s Own band. He said he remembered that Marines who enter the Corps that way are not required to attend boot camp and added that Casler might be just an advanced degree in music away from joining the Corps through the back door.
Unfortunately, Casler, who was eager to share in what her letter called “a proud bond that can’t be broken,” doesn’t have that degree.
So why did Casler receive the letter — signed by Brig. Gen. Walter Gaskin, commander of Marine Corps Recruiting command — in the first place?
According to Jay Cronin of J. Walter Thompson, the Marine Corps’ longtime advertising firm of choice, thousands of other Arabic-speaking Americans ages 30 to 85 are asking themselves the same question after the firm sent out 108,000 letters before it screened the ages of intended recipients.
Cronin said only 3,000 of the letters should have been dispatched and that the “data-processing” error came with a price tag of $60,000, which his company now owes the Marine Corps.
“The taxpayers aren’t going to pay anything,” Cronin said. “We’ve got steps that we’ve put in place, and we’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
He added that the error was entirely human and that the person responsible “no longer works on the Marine Corps account.”
Maj. Wesley Hays, a spokesman for Recruiting Command, expressed confidence in the new data-processing steps the firm is taking to prevent future errors, saying “we’ve had a strong relationship with J. Walter Thompson for a number of years and continue to do so.”
WFMY News 2, a Gannett TV station, contributed to this report from Greensboro, N.C.