- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

More recruits with criminal records, including felony convictions, are being allowed to join the Army and Marine Corps as the armed services cope with a dwindling pool of volunteers during wartime.

The military routinely grants waivers to take in recruits who have criminal records, medical problems or low aptitude scores that would otherwise disqualify them from service. Most are moral waivers, which include some felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic and drug offenses.

Defense Department statistics show that the number of Army and Marine recruits needing waivers for felonies and serious misdemeanors, including minor drug offenses, has grown since 2003. Some recruits may get more than one waiver.

The Army granted more than double the number of waivers for felonies and misdemeanors in 2006 than it did in 2003.

The number of felony waivers granted by the Army rose from 411 in 2003 to 901 in 2006, according to the Pentagon. Other misdemeanors, which could be petty theft, writing a bad check or some assaults, jumped from about 2,700 to more than 6,000 in 2006.

Army and Defense Department officials defended the waiver program as a way to admit young people who may have made a mistake early in life but have overcome past behavior. And they said about two-thirds of the waivers granted by the Marines are for drug use, because they — unlike the other services — require a waiver if someone has been convicted once for marijuana use.

Lawmakers and other observers say they are concerned that the struggle to fill the military ranks during a time of war has forced the services to lower their moral standards.

“The data is crystal clear. Our armed forces are under incredible strain and the only way that they can fill their recruiting quotas is by lowering their standards,” said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, who has been working to get additional data from the Pentagon. “By lowering standards, we are endangering the rest of our armed forces and sending the wrong message to potential recruits across the country.”

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Tuesday he is concerned because the Pentagon data differs from Army numbers. But overall, he said, “anything that is considered a risk or a serious infraction of the law is given the highest level of review.”

“Our goal is to make certain that we recruit quality young men and women who can keep America defended against its enemies,” Mr. Boyce said.

The data was obtained through a federal information request and released by the California-based Michael D. Palm Center, a think tank that studies military issues.

“The fact that the military has allowed more than 100,000 people with such troubled pasts to join its ranks over the past three years illustrates the problem we’re having meeting our military needs in this time of war,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the center.

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