Military broadens recruiting pool
With signs that the war in Iraq is entering a critical new phase,
there is a new focus on troop readiness.
However, the trend toward granting waivers for recruits who have
records of crime or other misconduct could damage that readiness.
The last of an estimated 30,000 U.S. troops sent as the "surge" last
year are tentatively scheduled to return from Iraq this summer. But
if the Bush administration completes a security arrangement with the
Iraqi government, a U.S. troop presence in Iraq will be assured for
some time to come. Even with Defense Secretary Robert Gates'
extension of tours from 12 to 15 months, fresh troops will be needed
over the next year and possibly longer in the war zones of Iraq and
Increasingly, Army recruiters are casting a wide net to bring in
potential fresh troops. As a result, the number of recruits needing
waivers to join the Army has more than doubled to one for every eight
Waivers are required for recruits with one felony or serious
misdemeanor or more than three minor misdemeanors, according to an
Associated Press report. Minor offenses range from disorderly conduct
to trespassing and vandalism.
According to Gates, Army regulations make no exceptions for those
with records of violent sexual crime or drug offenses. However, the
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released data in
April showing that a small number of recruits received waivers who
had committed sexual crimes, manslaughter or drug offenses. Others
were inducted despite records of robbery, aggravated assault and
Gates and Army recruiting officials have said the system is sound,
and that potential recruits are all thoroughly vetted. Still, the
fact that waivers are on the rise should be of concern to everyone,
as opportunities for errors in judgment increase.
Often, there are mitigating circumstances. Many of the recruits'
offenses were committed years earlier, when they were juveniles. As
Douglas Smith, the public information officer for the Army recruiting
command, said last year, "We understand that people make mistakes in
their lives and they can overcome those mistakes."
But a stressful, dangerous combat zone is probably not the best
environment for young adults to get their lives on track. And as the
military strives to modernize and become more adaptable to complex
and rapidly changing styles of conflict worldwide, a relaxing of
standards could do more harm than good.
Perhaps, instead of granting conduct waivers or offering cash bonuses
that do little good for the recruits in the long run, military
recruiters should try to boost enlistment by emphasizing something of
real value: education. Gates says that all who enter the Army, for
example, must have a high school diploma or GED. If true, then
passage of the already-popular legislation to extend GI Bill benefits
would give recruiters a powerful tool. With the prospect of having
your college education paid for, more young men and women would
enlist who do not require waivers.
And there is another opportunity presenting itself: worsening
unemployment in the U.S. Perhaps recruiters should turn the tables on
a well-known old military slogan to say: "It's not an adventure it's a job."