My last job in the Army was as a recruiter. The news for the last 7 years has often looked at the recruiting numbers of the Army and the other services, parsing them to spot trends toward a broken force. Some on the left are hoping to see the numbers fall and like to scare folks by saying that we’ll soon have a draft. Um, no. That’s the last thing the Army or the other branches want. The other theme often bandied about is that the quality of the services are falling. You can expect to see this news touted to support that view.
Let me give you a little background on waivers. Every person who joins the Army must be physically, mentally and morally fit for service. Finding people willing to join the Army was never a problem. Finding people that met those three criteria was the challenge. Something as small as a patch of psoriasis could be enough to disqualify someone physically, and whether they could receive a waiver was always a big question. As a recruiter, I had no influence on the physicians who reviewed the waiver applications. The mental qualifications were a kind of complicated. Everyone who joins the Army has to pass the ASVAB test. That’s the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Many of you may have taken it in high school as a warm up for SATs. What constituted a passing grade depended on your level of education. The test is scored on a curve, and the bottom 32% of the population fail the test. For a long time, people that had only a GED needed to score in the 50 percentile or better just to qualify. Whether we would grant them a waiver depended on how many other GEDs were trying to get in. If my recruiting battalion (which covered all of Indiana and the northern half of Kentucky) had space for 3 GEDs that month, it would generally be first come, first served. The fourth guy (or gal) who showed up with a GED was out of luck. The numbers actually allocated changed from month to month, based on the needs of the Army. This has been relaxed somewhat, both because of the pressing needs of recruitment and because many people now pursue nontraditional high school education, such as home school.
Finally, morally qualified. One of the first questions we asked was “have you ever been arrested, cited, charged, held or convicted of any crime?” I don’t care if charges were dropped, of if it was just a speeding ticket. If you spoke with the police, I needed to know. If there was a criminal history, we’d check it out and go from there. But even if we couldn’t get the prospect to admit to any criminal history, if they wanted to join, we would check police records at the city, county, and state level for every place they lived, worked or went to school for the last three years. Often, applicants would have some sort of record (though they usually told us, first). Let’s take a look at a typical case.
Mike was a high school graduate when I met him. He hadn’t really thought much about the Army, but he quickly became interested in working as a cannon crewmember. He took and passed the ASVAB with no problems. He didn’t appear to have any physical problems and I didn’t think the physical would find any. He did, however admit to a misdemeanor burglary charge. I ran the police checks on Mike and got a surprise. He had been arrested on felony burglary charges. That’s a disqualification right there. The next step was to go to the court and get their records on Mike. Mike’s charge had been reduced to a misdemeanor and he plead no contest. He was “conditionally discharged”, meaning that if he didn’t get into any further trouble with the law for one year, the charge would be dropped. Mike kept his nose clean and in due course, the charge was dropped. But as far as the Army was concerned, he was still disqualified. I had to help Mike apply for a waiver for enlistment. My rule of thumb was to test how bad the guy wanted to join. I would take care of all the Army paperwork, and Mike had to go get everything else, such as letters from his neighbors, teachers, clergy (I told him if he didn’t have any clergy, now would be a good time to find some!) and writing an explanation of why he thought he should be given a second chance.
After collecting all the materials for the waiver I sent it to my company commander. He reviewed it for completeness and accuracy, and to ensure that Mike could qualify for a waiver. My CO then sent it to the Battalion Commander, who had to decide to grant or deny the waiver. In this case, the waiver was granted, Mike went on to join the Army, serve his enlistment, and return home to attend college.
One reason more people need waivers these days is that more people are being charges for crimes that in the past, the police would have given a warning or handed them off to their parents. In addition, many crimes that were formerly misdemeanors are now felonies.
When you read or hear stories about how the Army is full of felons and thugs, take that with a grain of salt.