The Army and Marine Corps are letting in more recruits with criminal records, including some with felony convictions, reflecting the increased pressure of five years of war and its mounting casualties.
According to data compiled by the Defense Department, the number of Army and Marine recruits needing waivers for felonies and serious misdemeanors, including minor drug offenses, has grown since 2003. The Army granted more than double the number of waivers for felonies and misdemeanors in 2006 than it did in 2003. Some recruits may get more than one waiver.
The military routinely grants waivers to admit recruits who have criminal records, medical problems or low aptitude scores that would otherwise disqualify them from service. Overall the majority are moral waivers, which include some felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic and drug offenses.
The number of felony waivers granted by the Army grew from 411 in 2003 to 901 in 2006, according to the Pentagon, or about one in 10 of the moral waivers approved that year. Other misdemeanors, which could be petty theft, writing a bad check or some assaults, jumped from about 2,700 to more than 6,000 in 2006. The minor crimes represented more than three-quarters of the moral waivers granted by the Army in 2006, up from more than half in 2003.
Military defends second chances
Army and Defense Department officials defended the waiver program as a way to admit young people who may have made a mistake early in life but have overcome past behavior. And they said about two-thirds of the waivers granted by the Marines are for drug use, because they — unlike the other services — require a waiver if someone has been convicted once for marijuana use.
Lawmakers and other observers say they are concerned that the struggles to fill the military ranks in this time of war has forced the services to lower their moral standards.
“The data is crystal clear. Our Armed Forces are under incredible strain and the only way that they can fill their recruiting quotas is by lowering their standards,” said Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., who requested the information from the Pentagon. “By lowering standards, we are endangering the rest of our armed forces and sending the wrong message to potential recruits across the country.”
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Tuesday he is concerned because the Pentagon data differs from Army numbers. But overall, he said, “anything that is considered a risk or a serious infraction of the law is given the highest level of review.”
“Our goal is to make certain that we recruit quality young men and women who can keep America defended against its enemies,” Boyce said.