Officials remind U.S. public that the military doesn't charge for joining

You cannot buy your way into the U.S. military, Army officials reminded the public Monday, trying to clear up confusion in the Chinese American community after an El Monte man was arrested last week in connection with charging immigrants to join what authorities said was a phony military force.

"No legitimate U.S. Army recruiter will ever ask an applicant for money in order to serve in the military," said Capt. Patrick Caukin, commander of a U.S. Army recruiting office based in West Covina.

"No one will ever ask you for money for ranks or promotions," Caukin said. "That's something you earn through hard work."

David Deng, who called himself the Supreme Commander of the U.S. Army Military Special Forces Reserve Unit, charged recruits as much as $450 in initiation fees that included uniforms and fake military identification cards, prosecutors said.

Deng charged recruits an additional $120 a year to renew memberships. Among the services the group provided was marching in parades and attending various community functions, sometimes for a fee.

"Everything we do is free of charge; that's part of our duty, giving back to the community," said Manuel A. Perales, sergeant first class at the Army recruiting station in El Monte.

Deng allegedly told recruits that joining his group would improve their chances of getting U.S. citizenship.

Army officials said that although the military wants to build a diverse force, it also has strict requirements, including age limits, proficiency in the English language and a high school diploma. Recruits also must be green-card holders.

Chingching.ni@latimes.com

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