“The Army admitted about one-fourth more recruits last year with a record of legal problems ranging from felony convictions and serious misdemeanors to drug crimes and traffic offenses, as pressure to increase the size of U.S. ground forces led the military to grant more waivers for criminal conduct,” The Washington Post reported today:
In particular, the Army accepted more than double the number of applicants with convictions for felony crimes such as burglary, grand larceny and aggravated assault, rising from 249 to 511, while the corresponding number for the Marines increased by two-thirds, from 208 to 350. The vast majority of such convictions stem from juvenile offenses. Most involved theft, but a handful involved sexual assault and terrorist threats, and there were three cases of involuntary manslaughter.
I would note here that for years, Eli Flyer, a longtime Pentagon consultant on military recruiting, has warned of precisely such problems. During recent years, the Army has had significant troubles meeting its recruitment goals. In addition to vastly increasing the number of “moral waivers” it offers to new recruits, the Army had dealt with the situation by (as I’ve previously written) hiring and deploying new recruiters, offering larger enlistment bonuses and other incentives, and systematically lowering educational standards for new recruits. In 2006, the portion of non-high school graduates in the enlistee pool was 27.5 percent, up from 17 percent in 2005. In the 1990s, non-grads (most of whom do have a G.E.D.) made up only about 5 percent of new Army recruits.
Bringing in more troubled and poorly educated recruits leads to a host of problems. In an interview here two years ago, Flyer said:
Recruits who enlist with a moral waiver generally have higher discharge rates than other recruits. A number of the men who have been accused of abuses against civilians in Iraq had histories that should have raised red flags. For example, former soldier Steven Green, who is accused of raping and killing an Iraqi girl and her family, enlisted with a moral waiver for at least two drug- or alcohol- related offenses. He committed a third alcohol-related offense just before enlistment, which led to jail time, though this offense may not have been known to the Army when he enlisted. News accounts say Green was a high school dropout (with a GED certificate) and suggest he was a seriously maladjusted young man. A limited background check during the recruitment process would likely have provided information showing he should not receive a moral waiver.
Of course, the majority of military recruits don’t have any notable mental or educational shortcomings. But given recruitment difficulties, more and more troubled individuals will inevitably slip through the cracks