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.
- James Joyner, “Backdoor Draft?” TCS, 11 January 2005.
OTB: Military Personnel, General
Reserve Captain Fulfills Contract, Can’t Resign
Army Stop-Loss Program Forces 50,000 into Extended Duty
Pentagon Report: Army Near Breaking Point
Pentagon Weighs Guard and Reserve Cuts
Myth of the Underprivileged Soldier
9th Circuit Won’t Stop Guardsman’s Deployment
Soldiers Sue over Extended Enlistments
A Military Stretched Thin
OTB: Military Recruiting
Counter-Recruiting Efforts Anger Pentagon
Military Recruiting Shortfall Hits Key Jobs Hardest
Military Attracting Fewer Black, Urban Recruits
Army Doubles Idiot Quotient
Army Recruiting High School Dropouts without GED
Defense Department Seeks to Raise Enlistment Age to 42
Pentagon Creating Student Database for Recruiting
Army Keeping Problem Soldiers to Keep Troop Levels Up
Army Using Video Game as Recruiting Tool
Army Offers 15-Month Enlistment Option
Army Taking Recruiting Holiday
Blue to Green Moving Slowly
Army Recruiters Say They Feel Pressure to Bend Rules
Recruiting Soldiers During Wartime Difficult
Military Recruiters Target Friends and Family
Recruiting During Wartime
RECRUTING AND MORALE
Army Not Punishing AWOL IRR Members
Backdoor Draft? Reservists May Face Longer Tours of Duty
IRR Call-Ups Slow to Report
Army to Call Up Recruits Earlier
Reserve System Needs Change
Further IRR Call-Up Expected
IRR Call-Up Redux
IRR Call-Up Scam III
IRR Call-Up Scam II
IRR Call-Up Scam
Leaving the Military Reserves
Correction: Corrected the math above. In both cases, my argument was actually slightly strengthened by proper calculation.