Join the Army or Go to Jail?

Mark Benjamin implies that the Army is granting an unusually high number of waivers to those convicted of crimes as a way of coping with flagging enlistment rates.

According to statistics provided to Salon by the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the Army said that 17 percent (21,880 new soldiers) of its 2005 recruits were admitted under waivers. Put another way, more soldiers than are in an entire infantry division entered the Army in 2005 without meeting normal standards. This use of waivers represents a 42 percent increase since the pre-Iraq year of 2000. (All annual figures used in this article are based on the government’s fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. So fiscal year 2006 began Oct. 1, 2005.)

In fact, even the already high rate of 17 percent underestimates the use of waivers, as the Pentagon combined the Army’s figures with the lower ones for reserve forces to dilute the apparent percentage. Equally significant is the Army’s currently liberal use of “moral waivers,” loosely defined as criminal offenses. Officially, the Pentagon states that most waivers issued on moral grounds are for minor infractions like traffic tickets. Yet documents obtained by Salon show that many of the offenses are more serious and include drunken driving and domestic abuse.

Last year, 37 percent of the Army’s waivers (about 8,000 soldiers) were based on moral grounds. Like waivers as a whole, these waivers are proliferating — they’re 32 percent higher than in the prewar year of 2000. As a result, the odds are going up that the soldiers fighting and taking the casualties in Iraq entered the Army with a criminal record.

“The more of those people you take, the more problems you are going to have and the less effective they are going to be,” said Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan and a senior fellow at the progressive Center for American Progress. “This is another way you are lowering your standards to meet your goals.” Retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, who was the Army’s chief intelligence officer from 1981 to 1985, also called the increase in waivers “disturbing.”

This certainly sounds “disturbing.” However, without more information, it’s hard to say.

Melanie Matson takes Benjamin’s bait, writing, “These are people you would never hire in your shop under any circumstances. They are now staffing our Iraq war.”

But is this really the case? The anecdote that led the piece involved a man who had once sold a couple of marijuana cigarettes. Given the nature of journalism–and especially at Salon.com–this was probably at the high end of moral terpitude being waived.

Further the slight-of-hand with the numbers is a bit misleading. The number of waivers is 17 percent–up 42 percent!! from before the war. That means it was 12 percent to begin with. And the number of those waivers granted on “moral” grounds is up from 28 to 37 percent. This is hardly cataclysmic.

As I’ve noted numerous times previously, the Army routinely increases its standards (or, technically, enforces its constant standards more rigorously) in flush times and loosens up when recruiting is difficult. That was true in the 1990s, it is true now.

If they are merely granting waivers to a few more kids who have experimented with marijuana than in the past, it is not cause for much concern. If they are taking anyone with a pulse, that’s a problem. Absent more information, my guess is the former is the case.

CIA veteran Larry Johnson cites several recent trends in military personnel management, all of which have been cited at OTB as they unfolded, and sees a disturbing outcome:

The all volunteer Army’s unofficial slogan used to be, “quality is job one”. The professionalism and strong character the Army achieved, as it rebuilt itself from the damage inflicted during the Vietnam War, is now being undermined. The damage is not necessarily permanent but the trend is going the wrong way. We are now in the midst of an unofficially unrecognized crisis. Our military and political leaders are looking the other way as the military is polluted with the poorly educated, the immoral, and the incompetent. We have been warned in very clear terms, most recently by Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer, who reported the looming danger in a recent report to Don Rumsfeld. And George Bush says things are swell. Yeah, just like New Orleans.

We built the best military force in the history of the planet during an post-draft era but this is the first time that we have had a sustained war (actually, several overlapping sustained wars) in the thirty-three year history of the All-Volunteer Force. It should come as no surprise that people weighing the military as an option are going to be consider constant deployment and the all-too-real chance of getting killed in the negative column and decide that another alternative is preferable.

The positives far outweigh the negatives, as compared to conscription, but standards simply go down at the margins during wartime. I don’t like it one bit but, as Shimon Peres notes, “If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.”

Related links in the extended entry.

______

Elsewhere:

OTB: Military Personnel, General

OTB: Military Recruiting

OTB: IRR

Correction: Corrected the math above. In both cases, my argument was actually slightly strengthened by proper calculation.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. M1EK says:

    Good lord, you must be a yoga expert, because you’re bent over backwards with your head on the ground to grant them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    “anybody with a pulse” is pretty obviously what they’re doing right now, given all the other news on this.




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  2. LJD says:

    I agree with your analysis, James. Waivers are nothing new.

    It illustrates one of the tactics that the military is using in its uphill battle to meet recruiting targets during the Iraq war.

    Well, not exactly. It illustrates a tactic used to get otherwise qualified recruits into the Army to meet recruiting targets, ANY time.

    For many of these recruits, swearing in is the first step in correcting the errors of their lives. They stand a far better chance to stay out of trouble with the structure, discipline, and extensive support services provided in the Army.

    Put another way, more soldiers than are in an entire infantry division entered the Army in 2005 without meeting normal standards

    Interesting that he chose to paint the picture of an infantry division full of criminals. ‘Put another way’, I would guess in excess of 80% of them had other jobs in the Army.




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  3. LJD says:

    Block quotes omitted for some reason…




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  4. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘”These are people you would never hire in your shop under any circumstances. They are now staffing our Iraq war.”‘

    I always love the double standard on this. If criminals are victims of society then doesn’t society owe them opportunity? Or are they really recidivist criminals and are companies justified in not hiring them? Or is it just the usual nonsense where eeeeeeeevil corporations don’t hire people with criminal records because they’re evil but if they do they’re not fulfilling their implied obligation to do what they’re moral superiors think they should. I mean which is it?




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  5. Wayne says:

    Without knowing the moral standards that were waive, one really canÂ’t tell what the stats mean. DUI, being busted for a fistfight, drinking under age, who knows?
    It sounds like another hatchet job where they take anything negative and twist it around to make military look bad. Otherwise they would give us more pertinent facts. How many of them were waivers for arm robbery, rape or other serious crime. I suspect none. It just is inferred to hurt Bush and the military.




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  6. maddmatt says:

    You forget all the other “lowered standards” that have taken place…raising the age from 35 to 39, letting the test scores fall from 60% pass down to 20%.

    Also, I want to know why US generals in the field are protected by hired killers (mercenaries) instead of US troops…if the generals don’t trust the troops why should anybody? The conspiracist in me sees it as an easy way to have a repug sponsored coup d’etat.




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  7. Jonk says:

    Courts used to offer jail or military service back in the day…so why is this a problem now? The stricter standards in the Army as opposed to regular society will either straighten them out, land them in the stockade, or wash them out of bootcamp. The Army can take care of these “problems” quite handedly…they have been for centuries.




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  8. legion says:

    I’m just curious how many people commenting on this thread were complaining about how Clinton was ‘ruining our military’ just a few years ago.

    If Slick Willie had let standards fall like this, there’d be open talk of a coup, but it’s just par for the course in GWB’s world.




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  9. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘Courts used to offer jail or military service back in the dayÂ…so why is this a problem now? ‘

    That is true – that’s how my brother joined the Air Force.

    Gee, only 2 lunatics mentioning ‘coup’s in this thread.




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  10. maddmatt says:

    I am sure he is still a criminal and probably a republican!




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  11. LJD says:

    So now we’ve descended to a level where it’s o.k. to insult another poster’s family members- you guys really are running out of material.

    FWIW- Clinton ‘ruined’ our military by cutting defense spending. We couldn’t get parts for our vehicles without an act of Congress. You know, things HMMWV armor, body armor, that sort of thing…

    Also, he ‘ruined’ our current military by not delaing with Saddam or Bin Laden. Our troops are paying the price today for his inaction.




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  12. ICallMasICM says:

    mm –

    neither – electrician and D




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  13. NoZe says:

    I thought it was Ford, not the Army, that used the slogan “Quality is Job 1”?




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  14. fndjfn says:

    The positives far outweigh the negatives, as compared to conscription, but standards simply go down at the margins during wartime.

    This is smart policy for the Pentagon and it fits in with the larger military strategy. Remember, according to Bush, we invaded Iraq so we could fight the “terrorists” on their own turf–rather than in the US.

    Since there were no terrorist groups that posed a threat to the US affiliated with Saadam pre-invasion, the anarchy that ensued with the toppling of Saadam and the inability for the US to fully control the country and its borders (coupled with the feeling on the part of many radical Muslims that the US was being unduly imperialistic) caused foreign fighters to flock their to fight US troops. As Bush has made clear countless times, we attracted the terrorists to Iraq to preoccupy them, making it less likely that they will be able to do anything here.

    Likewise, it makes sense to send our domestic criminals out of the country to fight in dangerous circumstances; given high rates of recidivism, if they weren’t fighting in Iraq, they would probably be engaging in criminal anti-social behavior. Get them out of here, and the homeland is safer. So now we have the best of both worlds: our domestic “enemies” are sent out of the country to fight our foreign enemies. The American people get safety and security at home.




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  15. legion says:

    FWIW- Clinton ‘ruined’ our military by cutting defense spending. We couldn’t get parts for our vehicles without an act of Congress. You know, things HMMWV armor, body armor, that sort of thing…

    Oh yeah… the same things we still can;t get to our troops in sufficient numbers even years after ‘going to war’…

    Also, he ‘ruined’ our current military by not delaing with Saddam or Bin Laden. Our troops are paying the price today for his inaction.

    Ummmm, so what exactly did Bush the Elder do then?




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  16. legion says:

    Freakin’ preview… those were supposed to be LJD quotes.




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  17. Howie says:

    In the sticks where I’m from it was common for sherrifs to give first offenders a choice. Jail or join the army. In hopes that the army would do them some good. Most of the time charges were dropped upon enlistment.




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  18. JT says:

    One of my best friends in college went into the Navy to avoid serving time (mostly for multiple drunk and disorderlies – and being a punk rocker in early 80s West MI). Funny thing is that the joke was on the Navy, since his bipolar disorder decided to manifest DURING basic training (wonder what stressful event brought that about) and it was then the Navy’s responsibility to treat him.

    Long story short, he recovered, they were out an enlistman and the sentence retraction stood since he had technically fullfilled his end of the bargain!

    What interests me is that basically the whole con arguement that prisoners can’t be rehabed is being turned on its head. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it: its definitely better that lettting criminals sit around all day. What I’d really like to see is felons; forget this namby-pamby misdemeanor pot crap, let’s get some bonafide killers into the Corp! Think about it, it makes sense…




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  19. whjamisonjr says:

    This wouldn’t even be an issue if the College Republicans would stand up and start walking the walk instead of talking the talk. Unfortunately most, if not all, of the College Republicans out there consider putting a “support our troops” bumper sticker on their car to be morally equivalent to enlisting in the Army or USMC. “What, join the military? I can’t do that. I’m supposed to go to Cancun during spring break dude!”




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  20. just me says:

    I think it depends a lot on what the specific crimes or charges are, and how long ago they happened.

    They are nothing new. One of my husbands best friends while in the Navy joined up to avoid serving time for drugs. He is still in the Navy, gets great evaluations, doesn’t sell or do drugs, and doesn’t even drink much anymore since marrying and becoming a dad.

    I think the military is of course taking some risks with these waivers, but want to know how many guys got booted for drugs after joining up who didn’t have any convictions before joining?




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  21. smartalek says:

    Um — the number that 17 is 42% greater than is 12, not 10. You measure the %age of increase UP FROM the lower number, not DOWN FROM the upper. Not that it makes a lick o difference to what you said. Just sayin’




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