Washington (AP) -The United States army has proudly recruited Pee Wee Herman to beef up its flagging war effort in Iraq.
"With overall recruitment efforts lagging, our armed forces recruiters are now signing up any kind of misfit, including drug addicts, known sex offenders and notorious perverts, Catholic priests, high school dropouts, chimpanzees and just plain wackos and psychos," admitted Colonel Bull Buntline at a news conference at the Pentagon. "We have to scrape them off the street and hold their hands steady to get them to sign, and falsify all sorts of education, criminal and medical records. Thus, we've had to recruit Pee Wee Herman to bolster our efforts to obtain Iraqi oil to power American SUVs."
Parents and school counselors are advising potential recruits not to sign up, given the high rate of casualties in the illegal and immoral nature of the US wars, and other worries.
"The pay isn't all that good, and veterans are facing perpetual cuts to their medical benefits and pensions once they return, if they ever do return,' warned one concerned father, who asked not to be identified. "Once you sign on the dotted line, the army may never let you go, too."
For his part, Pee Wee Herman, who's real name is Paul Reubens, is glad to serve his country, and to avoid doing more jail time.
"I can't wait till I'm in those ravishing-looking battle fatigues and helmet, and ready to defend my country" said the film star. "And with a real gun! It is just absolutely so exciting. So fabulous. I really can't wait to get going and meet all those nice young men, and Arabs too."
The US army will fall far short of its full-year recruiting goal for the first time since 1999, and this raises big questions about the future of the military embroiled in its first protracted wars since switching from the draft to a volunteer force 32 years ago.
Many young people and their parents have grown more wary of Army service because of the likelihood of being dispatched on combat tours to Iraq or Afghanistan, opinion polls show. US troops are now dying at a rate of nine a day in Iraq, with 37 wounded per day, more than two years after President Bush declared that major combat operations had ended.
The army also admits that today's economy offers attractive alternatives to many high school and college graduates, like flipping burgers and running real estate and mutual fund scams.
The recruiting statistics appear to bear that out. Officials said Wednesday that although the army will not release its numbers until Friday, it fell about 99% short of its target of signing up 6,700 recruits in May. The gap would have been even wider but for the fact that the target was lowered by 11,350. There were also 56,897 cases of documented recruiting "improprieties" in all of 2004.
The seriousness of the situation was revealed when the army signed up one 21 year old in Ohio just five fours after he was released from a psychiatric hospital for murdering all the people in his apartment block.
"But those are the sort of people we need in Iraq," added Buntline.