- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Uncle Sam may still want you. But maybe not.

In sharp contrast to the peak years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. Army last year took in no recruits with misconduct convictions or drug or alcohol issues, according to internal documents obtained by the Associated Press.

And soldiers already serving on active duty now must meet tougher standards to get more time in uniform.

The Army also is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars less in bonuses to attract recruits or entice soldiers to remain.

It’s all part of an effort to slash the size of the active duty Army from about 570,000 at the height of the Iraq War to 490,000 by 2017.

The cutbacks began last year, and as of the end of March, the Army was down to fewer than 558,000 troops.

For a time during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army lowered its recruiting standards, increasing the number of recruits who entered the Army with moral, medical and criminal - including felony - waivers.

Recruits with misdemeanors, which could range from petty theft and writing bad checks to assault, were allowed into the Army, as well as those with some medical problems or low aptitude scores that might otherwise have disqualified them.

A very small fraction of recruits had waivers for felonies, which included convictions for manslaughter, vehicular homicide, robbery and certain sex crimes, which often involved consensual sex when one of the individuals was under 18.

In 2006, about 20 percent of new Army recruits came in under some type of waiver and, by the next year, it had increased to nearly 3 in 10. After the Defense Department issued new guidelines, the percentage needing waivers started to come down in 2009.

Now, as the Army moves to reduce its force, some soldiers will have to leave.

Officials say they hope to make cuts largely through attrition. But Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has warned that as much as 35 percent of the cuts will be “involuntary” ones that force soldiers to abandon what they had hoped would be long military careers.

“This is going to be hard,” said Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Army Forces Command. “This is tough business. As we increase things like re-enlistment standards, some of the people who were able to re-enlist three years ago won’t be able to re-enlist again.”

Decline in waivers

The Army, in an internal slide presentation, is blunt: “Re-enlistment is a privilege, not a right; some ‘fully qualified’ soldiers will be denied re-enlistment due to force realignment requirements and reductions in end strength.”

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