updated 10/10/2007 6:47:33 PM ET 2007-10-10T22:47:33

The Army over the past year again increased the number of its recruits who have prior criminal records by granting them special exceptions.

The Pentagon’s top personnel official defended the policy, saying it’s so stringent that many in Congress would have difficulty getting into the military today because of things they did in their youth.

The military routinely grants waivers to recruits with past criminal behavior, medical problems or low aptitude scores that would otherwise disqualify them from service.

In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 18 percent of recruits needed waivers for problems with the law — up from 15 percent the previous year, Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, told a Pentagon news conference. He said 87 percent of those were for misdemeanors such as joy riding or violating curfew.

Appearing with him, defense personnel head David S.C. Chu said the waiver policy, taken as a whole, is a tough one and takes into consideration the whole person and his or her future abilities, not just mistakes the person may have made in the past.

One question they are asked, he said, is whether they have ever used marijuana, even once. “If you answer ‘yes’ about one use ... it requires a waiver,” said Chu.

“That’s a pretty tough standard,” he said. “Not to be cheeky about this, but (if) we apply that standard to our legislative overseers, a significant fraction would need waivers to join the United States military.”

Services meet recruiting target
Chu was announcing that the services met their targets for recruiting in fiscal year 2007 — the Army recruited more than 80,400, Marines more than 35,500, Navy more than 37,000 and Air Force nearly 28,000.

The Army has been struggling to increase the size of its force amid an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

Various lawmakers and others worry that the Defense Department is lowering standards to draw in the needed recruits.

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