SAVANNAH, Ga. When Pfc. Steven Price of Utah volunteered to join the Army in January, he couldn't do it alone. Because he's 17, recruiters needed his parents to give their written permission.
Now, an Army spokesman says a Utah-based recruiter has admitted forging the signatures of Price's parents to enlist him.
Price reported for duty at Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia in June after he completed basic training. He credits the Army with restoring his pride after a troubled adolescence but said that doesn't justify his recruiters' actions.
"There was harm and foul play on their part," the Ogden teen said. "It was very deceiving what they did."
The Army recruited Price last winter at a juvenile prison in Ogden, where he was serving a one-year sentence for stealing a gun from his father.
Officials at the Mill Creek Youth Center allowed recruiters to take Price from the prison in January for a physical examination, written test and, finally, to be sworn into service after the recruiters showed a parental consent form.
The form, dated Jan. 10, had signatures in the names of Price's divorced parents, Dean Price and Lisa Jensen, as well as that of a witnessing recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Stape.
The parents, who live 89 miles apart, have denied signing the form.
Jensen said recruiters asked her to sign it Jan. 10, but she told them she needed more time to think about permitting her son to join the Army. She said the first time she saw the document was when her son came home from basic training in May.
"I noticed my signature being forged right off the bat. That smacked me right in the face," said Jensen of Brigham City.
Jensen said she did sign a different consent form Feb. 8, the day her son was released from juvenile prison, allowing him to enter basic training. "He begged me to go into the military," she said.
Congressional investigators reported last month that military recruiters have increasingly used overly aggressive, sometimes crimi- nal tactics, including falsifying documents, to meet recruiting goals as the war in Iraq and a strong job market have made their jobs hard.
The Government Accountability Office said substantiated cases of wrongdoing by recruiters jumped from 400 in 2004 to almost 630 last year. Criminal cases against recruiters more than doubled, from 30 to 70.
In Price's case, the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Salt Lake City launched an internal investigation and has sent its findings to commanders at Fort Knox, Ky., where a decision is pending on whether any recruiters should be punished administratively or referred to a court-martial.
"A recruiter admitted to falsifying the document," said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox.
Smith said the investigation targeted more than one recruiter, but he declined to identify them. He confirmed that Stape is a recruiter for the Salt Lake City battalion.
"I'm not allowed to talk about it," Stape said when reached at his home.
Price, who turns 18 in November, said he called Army recruiters while he was in the juvenile prison last year after another inmate gave him their phone number.
Marty Mendenhall, superintendent at the youth prison, said counselors made Price wait several months before allowing him to meet with a recruiter in person.
"It's not common for the military to recruit kids from here," Mendenhall said. "It's often very difficult to get these kids in the military, just based on their criminal histories."Comment on this story
Felony convictions, especially for violent crimes, sex crimes and drug offenses, can disqualify someone for military service. The Army says it's more likely to waive the criminal records of juveniles.
Smith, the Army spokesman, said Price was deemed "fully qualified for service" despite his record.
Price has been training as a dismount gunner in his 3rd Infantry Division unit and taking part in war games at Fort Stewart to prepare for deployment to Iraq.
"I used to do stupid, criminal stuff, but I really like helping people," Price said. "And now I get to do that."