In sharp contrast to the peak years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Army last year took in no recruits with misconduct convictions or drug or alcohol issues, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. And soldiers already serving on active duty now must meet tougher standards to stay on for further tours in uniform.
The Army is also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars less in bonuses to attract recruits or entice soldiers to remain.
It’s all part of an effort to slash the size of the active duty Army from about 570,000 at the height of the Iraq war to 490,000 by 2017. The cutbacks began last year, and as of the end of March the Army was down to less than 558,000 troops.
Even if the demand signal for enlistments was steady (that is, if the end strength of the Army was to remain where it is), there would be some adjustments to the standards.
Congress sets the statutory requirements for enlistment (and enlistment is a privilege, not a right). They leave each of the services plenty of scope to adjust the regulatory standards for enlistment, however. AR 601-210 covers enlistments in the Active and Reserves of the Army. As a recruiter, I typically received an updated copy of the regulation every quarter. The gist of the regulation didn’t change much, but specific guidance on waivers and standards would shift a bit each quarter. Further, the Recruiting Command would set caps on certain numbers of accessions. For instance, our recruiting battalion covering all of Indiana, and the northern portion of Kentucky might be told that the battalion would be allowed that month to enlist two otherwise qualified prospects that held a GED instead of a High School Diploma. Well, every recruiter had one or two GED prospects ready and willing to join just waiting for a slot. First come, first served. If your guy didn’t get to the Military Entrance Processing Station on the first day of the month, he was definitely out of luck. And I’d seen where one guy was slightly delayed getting through his physical, and by the time he was ready to sit down with the career counselor, and choose his enlistment, the slots were filled and he was denied the opportunity to enlist. And there was no guarantee that another GED slot would open any time soon.
Waivers for physical disqualifications were fairly routine. Sometimes, the MEPS just wanted a specialist to take a look at an issue, and verify that it wouldn’t cause issues in the future. Other times, it was important to show that a past injury or condition was treated, and if that it did resurface, it would be a preexisting condition, and not the Army’s fault.
Moral waivers (that is, waivers for legal troubles) were a bit trickier. For most infractions and misdemeanors, as long as any and all civil restrictions were lifted (that is, no probation, parole or conditional discharge remained), if you only had one, maybe two convictions, no waiver was required. If you had more than that, though, you, as a prospect, had to demonstrate that you weren’t a habitual troublemaker. No NCO or commander wants a guy that is going to suck up 90% of his time because he can’t function in a civil society, much less a military one.
As to felony waivers, I don’t think I ever saw one granted except in the case of drugs. Now, understand this, the Army considers ANY drug arrest, no matter how small, and no matter the charge eventually adjudicated, as a felony.
Let’s say Joe Schmoe gets busted for having a roach clip in his car. He’s issued a citation for possession of paraphernalia. He goes to court, and the judge lets him plead to a lesser charge, such as say, visiting a common nuisance, or loitering or some other non-drug charge. Well, as far as the Army is concerned, that still counts as a felony drug conviction. Joe may well be able to secure a waiver for enlistment. But the burden is on him to show he’s worthy of it. He’ll plea his case in writing (with court records, character references, etc.) to the recruiting battalion commander. The Battalion Commander, of course, is under the gun to produce numbers of recruits. But he’s also under the gun to provide quality recruits. If recruiting in his battalion is going well, why would he risk enlisting a possible troublemaker? If numbers are hurting, he may well grant the waiver. Often, the Commander will conduct an interview with Joe to get a feel for himself as to just how motivated Joe is about joining the Army. Usually that’s a phone call, but a trip across the state to Headquarters isn’t unheard of.
Now, as the WaPo article notes, with fewer soldiers needed, there will be a heck of a lot less waivers granted. Waiver authority for certain offenses will be rescinded, and the commander couldn’t grant them if he wished.