Facing wartime recruitment shortfalls, the U.S. army sharply increased the number of recruits who would normally be disqualified due to criminal misconduct or alcohol and illegal drug problems, raising fears that the military is lowering its standards to meet its recruitment goals, according to data provided by the army to the Baltimore Sun.
In 2005, almost one in six recruits had a background problem that would have made them ineligible to join the military service. To recruit them, the Army granted special exceptions, known as “recruiting waivers“.
While the largest category of recruiting waivers were given to those having medical problems, the Army accepted many recruits with misdemeanor convictions or those with charges of more serious criminal misconduct, such as aggravated assault, robbery and making terrorist threats, according to data provided by the Army.
A total of 11,018 waivers were granted in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2005, or 15% of those who joined the Army that year. This figure is higher than in 2004, when 9,300 waivers were granted, or 12% of those accepted into the military service.
“Serious criminal misconduct”
Despite the significant increase in the number of recruits with what military officials describe as “serious criminal misconduct”, the Army failed to meet its recruitment goals. A total of 73,000 men and women joined the Army in 2005, down from 77,000 in 2004.
The “serious criminal misconduct” category includes aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and making terrorist threats, according to Douglas Smith, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Ft. Knox, Ky. The number of recruits who fall in that category increased to 630, from 408 in 2004, reversing at least a four-year trend in which the number of recruits with serious criminal misconduct had declined, Army statistics show.
The largest increase in recruiting waivers was granted to recruits with misdemeanor convictions. Last year, there were 4,587 waivers granted for those who fall in that category, up from 3,667 in 2004. That category includes those with convictions for assault punishable by a fine of less than $500, resisting arrest, public drunkenness and contempt of court, Smith said.
The Army also granted 737 waivers for alcohol and illegal drugs, up from 650 the previous year, which also reversed at least a four-year trend of declines in that category. Smith said those waivers were granted for those who tested positive for amphetamines, marijuana or cocaine during recruit processing. A waiver is required to let the recruit wait 45 days before taking another test.
Despite the shocking figures, Smith denied that the increase in waivers indicated a lowering of standards by the Army or difficulties in meeting recruiting targets. He even claimed that the Army has met its monthly goals for the last eight months.
Smith also said the Army started granting waivers after it decided to look at the “whole person concept” and not just past incidents.
But many commanding officers insist that the increase in recruiting waivers reflects a drop in standards that will lead to discipline problems within units and will narrow the pool of candidates for promotions in the future.
Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, said that the waivers reflect a troublesome trend. "It shows you how the recruiting difficulties are getting worse," he said. "They're dropping the standards. It increases the likelihood of problems in the unit, discipline problems."
"By and large these are flawed recruits," said retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, adding that the real impacts of the waivers would be felt into the future when the recruits are up for promotion. "Those getting waivers won't be the sergeants we want,” he added.
How can the U.S. improve its shattered image if it recruits people who already have criminal history? Whenever an abuse scandal is exposed in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Pentagon claims that it is just the work of few “rogue” soldiers. But obviously the problem starts in the U.S., not in the war zone. It just gets worse when those recruits serve in occupied countries.