- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Soldiers who need special waivers to get into the Army because of bad behavior go absent without leave more often and face more courts-martial. But they also get promoted faster and re-enlist at a higher rate, according to an internal military study obtained by the Associated Press.

The Army study late last year concluded that taking a chance on a well-screened applicant with a criminal, bad driving or drug record usually pays off. And both the Army and the Marines have been bringing in more recruits with blemished records. Still, senior leaders have called for additional studies to help determine the impact of the waivers on the Army.

“We believe that so far the return outweighs the risk,” said Army Col. Kent M. Miller, who headed the team that conducted the study. The information has not been released to the public.

The statistics show that recruits with criminal records, or drug or alcohol issues, have more discipline problems than those without such backgrounds. Those recruits also are a bit more likely to drop out of the Army because of alcohol problems.

But, those with waivers earn more medals for valor and tend to stay in the Army longer.

The study said that nearly one in five — or 19.5 percent — of the soldiers who needed waivers to join the Army failed to complete the initial term of enlistment, which could be from two to six years. That percentage is just a bit higher than the 17 percent washout rate for those who didn’t need a waiver to get in.

About 1 percent of those with waivers appeared before courts-martial, compared with about 0.7 percent of those without waivers.

Overall, soldiers with waivers appear more committed to their service once they get in. Statistics show they tend to stay in the Army longer and re-enlist at higher rates. Also, infantry soldiers with waivers were promoted to sergeant in an average of about 35 months, compared with 39 months for those without waivers.

The Army study compared the performance of soldiers who came in with conduct waivers against those who did not during the years 2003 to 2006. During that time, 276,231 recruits enlisted in the Army with no prior military service. Of those 6.5 percent, or nearly 18,000 had waivers.

Waivers have been an issue for the military recently, with the news that the Army and Marine Corps have increased their use of the exemptions to bring in more recruits with criminal records than ever before.

The Army and the Marine Corps are under pressure to attract recruits as the services struggle to increase their size to meet the needs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The last time the active duty Army missed its recruiting goal was 2005. Last year it set a target of 80,000 recruits and signed up 80,410. It is trying for another 80,000 this year.

Some critics outside the Defense Department say the military is lowering its standards in order to fill its ranks. And lower-level officers have raised concerns with their leaders that the trend may trigger an increase in disciplinary problems within their units.

Gen. William Wallace, commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va., dismisses the notion that waivers are creating more disciplinary problems in today’s Army.

He said when the Army brings in a young person who made a mistake and got past it, most likely “they will be a better person for having made that mistake and learned from it than perhaps somebody who didn’t make the mistake and didn’t have the opportunity to learn.”

SCREENING PROCESS

Military recruits who have criminal records or drug, alcohol or serious traffic offenses go through a lengthy process to get waivers to join the Army. It can include reviews and approvals at different points and can take several weeks:

For lesser offenses:

•Request for the waiver.

•Compilation of police and court records.

•Interview from the station commander, followed by a recommendation.

•Interview and recommendation from the company commander.

•Analysis of the application by battalion staff.

•Review and recommendation from the battalion officer.

•Approval or disapproval of the waiver by the battalion commander.

Additional steps for more serious misconduct:

•Review and recommendation by the Army recruiting command specialist.

•Review and recommendation by the Army recruiting command officer.

•Review and recommendation by the colonel.

•Final approval and disapproval by the general.

Source: Associated Press


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