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Pentagon considering recruiting officials with criminal records

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah

November 9, 2007

Just when we thought the Pentagon can’t be more creative, news emerged that top military officials are considering ways to recruit candidates with criminal records.

According to the Associated Press, the number of army recruits who need waivers for bad behavior -- such as drug use, weapons use and stealing -- increased from 15% in 2006 to 18% this year.

Pentagon statistics show that three in every 10 recruits must get a waiver, and about two-thirds of those approved in recent years have been for criminal behavior. 

Moreover, the Pentagon do not just ignore criminal records, it also dismisses health problems, such as asthma and flat feet.

Desperate as it is, the Pentagon is not worried about the disciplinary problems that could arise in the army as a result of recruiting soldiers with criminal records. 

The Pentagon says that its efforts to make it easier for people with criminal records to join the military is to make waiver requirements consistent across the services — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel, says that reviewing waiver requirements is necessary, adding that many recruits who have been arrested as juveniles for crimes like minor fights or theft are still obliged to obtain waivers even if they have never been convicted. 

"I do believe it needs to be done," Rochelle said of the waiver review. "There are really anomalies out there."

Even though obtaining a waiver requires many steps, paperwork and investigations, the final decision is made by senior recruiting officers or higher-ranking commanders depending on referrals and health screening. 

Many officials are advising that waivers requirements should be more unified, but, so far, the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Forces, have different waiver requirements. 

The biggest difference in waiver requirement involves Marines and drug use. While all services require no waivers for one time marijuana use, it’s a requirement for candidates who want to join the Marines. According to AP, 69 percent of conduct waivers for Marines who joined from October 2006 to June 2007 were for previous drug use. 

The majority of the Army’s conduct waivers over the same period - 71% - were for serious misdemeanors, which can include thefts worth more than $500, any incident involving a dangerous weapon on school grounds, or minor assaults and fights. 

According to the Pentagon data, the bulk of all conduct waivers are for recruits involved in either drug offenses or serious misdemeanors. Over the past five years, the overall percentage of recruits involved in serious misdemeanors has grown.

The waivers used for conduct in the Air Forces also increased from 77% in 2003 to 80.8% in June 2007.

Surprisingly the only service that experienced a decrease in the number of conduct waivers is the Navy with 56.7% of waivers in 2003 for conduct, compared with 40.3% through June 2007. 

Easing waiver requirements will make it easier for the U.S. military to deploy more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon has already recommended the Army be increased by about 65,000 soldiers to a total of 547,000, and the Marines be increased by 27,000 to 202,000. 

To increase the number of recruits, current soldiers and Marines must be convinced to stay and new recruits must be brought in. Easing waiver requirements will make this job easier, army recruiters say. 

Two examples were cited by army recruiters attending a recent conference in Denver. The first involves a 22-year-old applicant who accidentally set a house on fire at the age of 14 and was charged as a juvenile. In order to join the army now, a waiver must be issued. 

Another 18-year-old also has to obtain a waiver if he wants to join the army, since his criminal record has an incident at the age of 14 when he used a shoe as a weapon in a school fight. 

Although several army recruiters support easing waiver requirements, many others disagree. 

At Fort Sill, Okla., Army officers said they already spend a lot of time dealing with discipline problems. And in a meeting with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a number of officers vigorously nodded their heads when he asked if that was a concern. 

Mullen was told by an officer who spent in Iraq that he wasted a long time dealing with what he called “problem children”. 

However, Muller later said that increasing waivers doesn’t lead to more disciplinary issues. 

It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon would recruit more soldiers with criminal records. The only known fact is that the countries occupied by the U.S. would be the most affected if the Pentagon decided to accept more recruits with criminal records. 

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