I, Soldier—Well, Almost

The U.S. Army has embarked on a “pilot program,” named MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) to recruit about 1,000 foreign nationals (legal resident aliens on non-immigrant visas) as an effort at filling critical shortfalls of “medical” and “linguistic” professionals in the military ranks.

Upon reading about this in the New York Times, I got in touch with the U.S. Army local recruiting station, and made inquiries about how I could join the program.

I met up with a recruiter. He told what I needed to do to enlist. I submitted all paperwork to him, and took two mandatory defense aptitude tests: a short and a long-version of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (or ASVAB.)

At the preliminary round, I’d been asked to voice my preference for either a medical or a language job. Since I’d expressed an explicit desire to work as a “linguist,” I was also required to take an additional language-proficiency exam. I did, and cleared it without a hurdle.

Prior to that, I’d been told categorically by the recruiter that it was the scores, more than anything else, which would determine the type and level of the job one was offered, the assumption, of course, being that one would be working in a field of one’s express interest.

A “linguist,” in my case.

Surprisingly, though, soon after my scores arrived, my recruiter changed course, and informed me that the job the army had “chosen” for an enlistee depended neither on his or her aptitude, academic qualifications, or professional background.

Interestingly, despite securing a 92 percentile on the ASVAB; despite holding a master’s degree in journalism from a U.S. university with a G.P.A. of 3.9; despite my knowledge of Hindi; and despite my training as a journalist, I was offered a puzzling choice of possible occupations.

1. A cook
2. A laundromat operator
3. A metal worker
4. A hovercraft operator
5. An AH-64 Apache helicopter technician

Two software professionals I came to know through the MAVNI program were also offered an equally strange vocational array.

I’d nearly settled for the job of a chopper maintenance crew. On second thoughts, however, I decided to withdraw my application.

Why do you need a highly educated foreigner to clean a chopper, when that task could be performed by any U.S. citizen with little educational qualification?


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