…and a PG-13 prison movie…

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 military’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, it’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.

11 thoughts on “…and a PG-13 prison movie…”

  1. bq. First, one issue that isn’t raised is the overall criminalization of society… 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.

    Why AL, that was downright _libertarian_ of you. Brace for the usual flames for not living up to the latter half of your moniker.

    Excellent post. I’d like to see those studies on the waiver segment as well. There may be a more decisive way to answer the NYT: was there any mention of studies done tracking enlistment waivers against personnel cited for conduct problems or other military code violations?

  2. The best I’ve read in Internet this evening.

    There is something perverse with basic training that makes you love it.

  3. First off, did your son actually say that, or get it from somewhere, about Basic Training?

    Quite the witty sentence, I think. If it’s his, he has a bit of a future as a wordsmith, I think. Certainly wittier than most of what you post!! (Kidding, kidding, just tweaking your nose.)

    Secondly, yeah, the fact that the United States has on average a much higher percentage of its citizens incarcerated, than other countries, is a big deal.

    I do agree with you, regarding any hysteria about “convicts” being in the military. Sounds like, the way they are doing the background checks, it’s a minor concern.

    And the COST of this occupation, is laid bare by the quote from Flournoy:

    _With the Iraq war being as controversial as it is and absent any higher level call to service, it’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._

    Yes, I would think so. The easy solution is not to be in an unending occupation.

  4. Funny, the same people who tend to think that felons should regain the right to vote, are the ones who are now making a stink about them being able to join the military.

    Believe it or not, when I worked at RTC in San Diego in 1992 we had a kid come through with “White Power” tattoo across his neck. How he made it past MEPS boggled all of our minds, suffice to say he was promptly asked to leave once the tattoo was noticed during processing.

    As for “unending occupations” give me a holler when we leave Korea before getting all uppity about Iraq.

  5. Gabriel,

    A comparison between Korea and Iraq is a dishonest comparison. How many U.S. military men have been blown up by IED’s in the last 30 years?

  6. Remember, technically (at least at the moment) we are still at war in Korea – so yes, it is an occupation, and so is Germany and Japan, too.

    Ms. Flourney isn’t a “centerist” unless the DLC is – I would describe the CNAS as the Democratic defense establishment in-waiting.

  7. “How many U.S. military men have been blown up by IED’s [in Korea] in the last 30 years?”
    If you want to compare the overall Korean conflict to Iraq, Iraq so far is less deadly by an order of magnitude.

    If you want to ask about Korea since 1978 – 25 years after the end of ‘major combat operations’ – we’ll have to wait and see how Iraq is doing in 2028.

    Back on topic, it’s disgraceful that convicted felons have been allowed into the armed forces. Get those people back into faculty positions and Hyde Park where they belong.

  8. I totally agree with A.L. about the problem of excessive criminalization. This is partly due to the mania about “zero tolerance” and mandatory sentencing laws.

    Once upon a time, the idea was that a Judge could exercise judgment. Which includes recognizing when a kid who has done something dumb will be (and has already been) sufficiently disciplined by their parents to teach them the relevant lesson. Restitution and probation do a lot more to produce a mature citizen than throwing someone in the slammer. (Try avoiding bad companions in that environment!)

    You have to recognize that the law specifies simple rules. The real world is a lot more complex. Even a very good law, that should be a guideline for good behavior for everyone, sometimes specifies the wrong treatment for some unlikely corner case. That’s the reason for leaving human judgment in the loop.

    We’re paying for thinking we can take it out.

  9. The amount of work that a recruiter puts in to enlist someone with a felony conviction, and the amount of background information that is gathered is intense.

    First off, when an applicant reveals any law violation (not just a felony), the recruiter will obtain police and court record checks from the city, county, and state where the applicant currently lives, works, or goes to school as well as the same checks for where the offense occurred. If the criminal offense will require a waiver (misdemeanor or felony) then the recruiter must obtain city, county, state police and court records from every place the applicant has lived, worked, or went to school in the past three years. The applicant must obtain letters of recommendation from every place they’ve worked, or gone to school in the past three years. They also should obtain letters of recommendation from community leaders (teachers, coaches, clergy, etc) and other people who know them well. These letters need to address the individual’s work ethic, reliability, trustworthiness, integrity, etc. Finally, after all those documents are obtained the applicant must write a statement explaining the events behind each charge, what mistakes they’ve made, and how they have changed or improved themselves. Then the applicant is interviewed by the recruiting company commander. If the waiver is something for battalion level the battalion commander may or mat not choose to interview the applicant as well. However, if the waiver will go beyond the battalion (felonies basically), then the recruiting battalion commander will interview the applicant as well. After these interviews the waiver request is forwarded to the brigade commander who then reviews it and can interview the applicant as well (usually not going to happen, they’ll just review the lower level commander’s interviews). Finally the waiver is forwarded to USAREC where it is reviewed and then either the Commanding General or his Deputy (2 star and 1 star) review the waiver and either approve it, deny it, or return without action. And these are NOT something the general’s pass off on a subordinate. They are the ones who actually review and approve the waivers personally.

    Of all the issues facing the Army recruiting wise, the enlistment of felons after being waivered is not the biggest one. Hell, the Army achieved its mission by more than the 511 felons who were waived in. The Army, literally, didn’t need them to make mission.

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