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In a memo earlier this year, Army Secretary John McHugh laid out more stringent criteria for denying re-enlistment, including rules that would turn away soldiers who have gotten a letter of reprimand for a recent incident involving the use of drugs or alcohol, or some soldiers who were unable to qualify for a promotion list.

“It’s all focused on allowing us … to retain only those soldiers who have the right skills, the right attributes and who help us meet the requirements and are those soldiers which truly have the greatest potential,” said Brig. Gen. Richard P. Mustion, the Army’s director of military personnel management.

Last year, as the budget and personnel cuts began to take hold, just a bit more than 10 percent of Army recruits needed waivers to join.

The bulk of those - about 7 percent - were medical waivers, which can include poor eyesight that can be corrected. About 3 percent were for misconduct that did not involve convictions.

The decline in recent years was almost entirely on conduct waivers, not medical. As an example, there were 189 recruits with “major misconduct” waivers last year, and none with criminal convictions, compared with 546 misconduct waivers in 2009 and 220 with convictions.

Gen. Mustion said that as Army recruiters look at the applicants coming in, they “are truly able to identify the very best soldiers, future soldiers, and those who display the greatest potential.”

He said they are evaluating each one on his physical, academic and aptitude test performances “and, quite frankly, would they require a waiver to come into the military versus the next soldier who has the same credentials but wouldn’t require a waiver.”

Waivers have long been a source of debate. Military officials have defended the process, saying it allows good people who once made a minor mistake to enlist.

But mid-level officers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan also told top defense officials that the dramatic rise in the number of bad-behavior waivers was a problem, that they were often spending too much time on “problem children.”

Re-enlistment bonuses

Steven Dale Green, a former 101st Airborne Division soldier, got into the Army on a morals waiver because of an earlier problem with drugs. He now is serving five life terms for killing an Iraqi family and raping and killing the 14-year-old daughter in March 2006.

With the economy struggling, it’s still a recruit-rich environment.

But Army officials worry that as the economy gets better, they may not get all the high-quality recruits they need, and their best soldiers may decide not to re-enlist because they may do better in the corporate world.

For now, however, the Army is saving money in the process.

According to Gen. Mustion, soldiers in just a few types of jobs include bonuses with enlistment: interpreter/translators, divers, cryptologic linguists, medical laboratory specialists and explosive ordnance disposal specialists. And those bonuses average about $3,300 to $3,500, he said.

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