This morning there was a blogger conference call with Bill Carr, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy – the guy in charge of military recruiting.
The topic was the flurry of news stories early this week about the rise in the numbers of ‘waivers’ for enlistees – in which people with past criminal activity are allowed to enlist, in spite of rules to the contrary.The implications of the news stories seemed pretty clear; the Army is scraping the bottom of the barrel, and digging further, in order to keep enlistments up in the fact of Bush’s unpopular war. Actually, let me quote the NY Times:
Strained by the demands of a long war, the Army and the Marine Corps recruited significantly more felons into their ranks in 2007 than in 2006, including people convicted of armed robbery, arson and burglary, according to data released Monday by a House committee.
Coupled with sharp increases in the number of waivers for misdemeanors, the trend raises questions about the militaryâ€™s ability to attract quality recruits at a time when it is trying to increase enlistment. The Army, which has suffered the most war casualties and the longest deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, faces an especially difficult challenge in attracting qualified men and women.
The Times story was actually a good one, and well-balanced – it allwoed the Army to put some context around things:
Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said the waivers had been carefully vetted and were not as serious as they appeared on paper. The kidnapping charge involved a divorced woman who moved out of state with her child without the permission of her former husband, she said. One terroristic threat charge involved a 14-year-old who called in a bomb threat to his school, and the other also involved a minor.
And I can’t disagree with the wrapup:
“With the Iraq war being as controversial as it is and absent any higher level call to service, itâ€™s a very difficult challenge to all the services, particularly the Army,” said Michele Flournoy, the president and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, a centrist research organization that focuses on national security and military policies. “The fact that the use of waivers has increased dramatically is something that should be of concern and should be watched over time.”
Now good for the new media folks at the Pentagon for responding (although it’d be better to get the response cycle down to 24 hours or less – but scheduling someone like this probably takes some time). Here are my notes from the call, and some comments…
Went from 816 waivers in ’06 to 1077 waivers (assume this is total for all services?)
each is reviewed by general officer – fairly robust review process
(RAND?) did study tracking cohort – retention % is the same
tracking effort outside this study? – no DoD tracking, but tracking at service level
army loosened by saying tats that show don’t dq you
historically – tats that show propensity to misbehave were a dq
now there are checks for gang tats (there’s a book…) before tats declaring gang affils was not a dq – when did that change? in past year
Lowering aptitude would have bigger impact
180K recruits last year – 1077 waivers total
60% of recruits from top 50% of aptitude – that’s not been lowered
not relaxing key standard – aptitude, which would be easy dial to change to up recruit #’s
So from my POV, a few comments.
First, one issue that isn’t raised is the overall criminalization of society; this is something I’ve bitched about for some time, but we are increasingly funneling our responses to bad behavior through the criminal justice system in ways that seem – well, just bad to me.
I street-raced cars as a kid – a misdemeanor today. I made guncotton in AP chemistry in high school – God knows what I’d have been charged with today. I think that we have created a complex of laws that makes all of us criminals to some extent, and one aspect of this is that there are probably a bunch of decent kids out there with felony records – arrests or convictions.
And to the extent that those records block them from having any decent opportunities in life – well, forget military recruiting, we’ve just created a cohort that has no choice but to live on the margins of society.
This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t young hard-core criminals, who need to be kept away from the rest of us – there are.
But the mere tagging of someone with ‘criminal’ in today’s society is something we ought to look at with a greater sense of care than we typically do, and than is being done by the press here.
Second, as far as the military issues are concerned, I’d think that this is pretty small beer. The numbers are minuscule, there is close high-level review of each one – the local recruiters don’t get to make these calls in order to make quota, and there have apparently been studies done (be nice to get my hands on the actual study, though) that show no difference in outcome. And I’ll suggest that for every standard they loosen (waivers or tats) there is one they tighten (screening tats for gang affiliation).
From my (limited) personal experience watching Biggest Guy go through his enlistment process, they screen the heck out of the kids. He had stacks of background papers to fill out – in order to enlist as an enlisted man.
And as to the title of the post, he described life in an enlisted barracks during Basic training as “…a cross between rush week at a bottom-tier Southern college, and a PG-13 prison movie.“