Just as America’s all-volunteer military celebrated its 35th anniversary last week, Pentagon officials were citing another successful month of recruiting: All services said they had met or exceeded their goals for the 13th straight month, leading one official to say:
“There were concerns about how today’s fight would affect retention, and yet, retention has been as strong as any period in our history,” [Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Bill Carr] said. “Volunteers want to serve; their performance is strong, their behaviors are strong, and their discipline is high.”
But a year-long investigation from The Sacramento Bee published just a few days later raised serious questions about the cost of meeting those goals by lowering requirements:
The Bee linked dozens of soldiers and Marines with criminal records and other questionable backgrounds to misconduct in the military. In some cases, past misconduct appeared to foreshadow future behavior.
[…] Of the more than 120 soldiers and Marines with questionable pasts examined by The Bee, at least 18 had felony arrests or convictions or histories of mental illness. At least eight of the 18 later were connected to incidents in Iraq, and a ninth fatally shot himself while on guard duty in Kuwait.
The article cites several grim examples, which add to The New York Times’s profile of a similar soldier who was troubled long before enlisting. The soldier, Steven D. Green, enlisted just a few days after his third misdemeanor conviction. He is now charged with raping an Iraqi girl and murdering her and three family members; he has been discharged on psychiatric grounds and is awaiting trial.
It’s no secret that the military has changed its recruitment policies to meet its goals. In 2005, Army recruiters complained to The New York Times about pressure to bend regulations to meet quotas, with one saying, “we have to play fast and loose with the rules just to get by.”
Enlisting with a criminal record requires a waiver, and granting them is a practice that has been on the upswing in 2006 and 2007. In the first half of the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 13 percent of all Army recruits have received waivers, according to a report in April.
The other armed services are doing so far less often, though. Overall, only 1 percent of all military recruits received waivers last year. The Pentagon defended its recruiting practices to The Bee, which made clear that its inquiry only considered a fraction of the 1.4 million soldiers, officers and other people in uniform.
Perhaps most striking in The Bee report was the criticism leveled by the parents of the soldiers who were allowed in to the Army despite a history of problems. “Shame on my son,” Tressie Cox, the mother of a soldier who was charged with selling drugs in Iraq, said to the paper. “But shame on all you people out there who are policing this and allowing this to continue to happen.”