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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Felons helped Army meet recruitment goal

Web Posted: 10/12/2007 11:29 PM CDT
Sig ChristensonExpress-News
WASHINGTON — The Army made its recruiting goal last year despite an increasingly unpopular war by turning to people convicted of serious crimes.

Recruiters signed up people who had committed such felonies as arson, burglary, aggravated assault, breaking and entering and driving while intoxicated.
The Army Recruiting Command said "moral" waivers for 1,620 felons were approved in the 2007 federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That was far above the 2006 mark of 1,002.
The Army called giving waivers "the right thing to do" for those who want to serve. But a former Vietnam-era combat commander warned the service has cut a Faustian bargain it has made in the past and came to regret.
"I don't think that they should reduce their standards at all because it's not going to pay off for them," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, who had the job of improving the quality of recruits in the Northeast after standards fell in the wake of Vietnam.
"It will be a short-term fix in making numbers, but a long-term headache in terms of performance," he predicted, "and I don't know one Army officer — particularly those who went through the Vietnam and post-Vietnam period — who doesn't take that same view."
The Army Recruiting Command's chief, Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, said a relatively small number of the service's 80,000-plus active-duty recruits are granted moral waivers.
Most moral waivers, he said, were for misdemeanors — "small-time things" like joyriding and teen drinking. He said he or his deputy approved waivers for all serious offenses.
The Army grants waivers for reasons ranging from medical conditions to aptitude scores.
The number of all waivers issued also rose significantly in 2007 over the previous year —18.5 percent of all recruits. The Recruiting Command said 22,186 waivers were granted, more than half of them for "moral character" issues.
Another 38.9 percent were medical waivers, with the remaining 6.7 percent for drug and alcohol problems.
In all, 8,330 moral waivers were issued in the 2006 fiscal year. Of those, 1,002 were for offenses the Army classified as felonies, Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said. Recruits allowed into boot camp, he added, received a reduced charge in many cases but still were classified as felons.
Those convicted of sexually violent offenses and drug dealing aren't allowed into the Army. Federal gun control law forbids people convicted of certain domestic violence crimes from serving. Those involved in school violence were barred after the Columbine shootings, the Army said, as are people in jail, on parole or facing felony charges.
The Army conducts an extensive investigation into the background of each person only after a court renders judgment.
University of Maryland military sociologist David Segal called the numbers striking. The Army couldn't say if they were a record, but one Pentagon official, Dr. David Chu, told reporters this week that while waivers in 2007 were within historical norm, they were "at the high end" of the range.
The Army's increasing reliance on people with questionable backgrounds comes amid a war that Segal and the recruiting command's Bostick agree has hurt recruiting.
"When you have a war that's not supported by the American people, you're not going to get the right people to join the American Army," said Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs during the Reagan administration, now a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress in Washington.
The Army, though, said the waiver program allows patriotic young people to serve their country. In a fact sheet on the subject, the Army notes just three in 10 Americans between 17 and 24 years old are fully qualified to serve. The Army, it adds, reflects American society and, as a result, is taking more overweight youths and people with asthma, along with those convicted of serious crimes.
Bostick conceded Iraq is the deal-breaker for people. Recruiters, he said, are struggling to win the hearts and minds of "influencers," parents and other authority figures who help guide young people.
The raw numbers underscore the Army's dilemma in the fifth year of the Iraq war. It signed up fewer high school graduates — just 79.07 percent in 2007, down slightly from the previous year. It's taking in more overweight recruits and a greater number of people who post the lowest scores on the military's aptitude test.
Those who have been members of gangs, though, aren't automatically excluded from service.
"It's the criminal behavior that would be cause for exclusion," said Smith of the recruiting command. Anyone seeking a moral waiver is closely scrutinized by both recruiters and their chain of command, he said.
He could not say how many on waivers make it through basic training or commit crimes — including felonies — once they are in uniform.
Some soldiers famed for their heroism in combat, however, had checkered pasts.
At 16, Louis Richard Rocco was about to be sentenced for grand theft auto and armed robbery when he visited an Army recruiter. After a heart-to-heart talk, the recruiter went with him to court, where a judge said he could join the Army at 17 if he stayed in school, obeyed a curfew and stopped hanging out with gang-member friends.
Rocco, who died at his San Antonio home in 2002 at 63, received the Medal of Honor after his helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crashed. He retired as a chief warrant officer in 1978, four years after receiving the medal from President Ford, and re-enlisted during the first Gulf War.
Rocco, an Albuquerque, N.M., native, recruited medical personnel at Fort Sam Houston and later became a motivational speaker in the Alamo City.
Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the number of moral waivers for 2007 were "quite acceptable," and noted that rates for desertion and going AWOL "continue to be at historically low levels."
The Army could not say how many soldiers who came in on moral waivers last year were accused of committing offenses requiring court-martials or non-judicial punishment. It added that an examination of records in 2003 showed no "significant" problem.
But Trainor, co-author of "Cobra II," a critical look at the Iraq war, said it took seven years for the Marines to recover from their decision to lower recruiting standards. The corps fixed the problem, he said, by taking a "zero-tolerance" approach to those responsible for recruiting and training new Marines.
"Is there room for the renegade and the rogue in the enlisted ranks?" Trainor asked. "Yes, there is. You don't want to close it off because there's a guy there who is going to do a hell of a good job, but you have to be careful. I'm saying you have to be careful about the people you accept and invest in."

1 comment:

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