Recruiting Standards Remain High, Defense Official Says
By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 20, 2007 Today’s military is a “remarkable, high-quality” group of people who are better educated, more physically fit and more “morally square” than the average American, a top military official told the American Forces Press Service.
Despite recent media reports to the contrary, the Defense Department has not compromised its standards to meet recruiting goals, said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy.
“That’s just not the case,” Carr said. “Two-thirds of troops are drawn from the top half in math and verbal aptitude (tests); and 90 percent or more have a high school diploma, compared to about 80 percent of American youth. So, by any measure of the military, this is far above average.”
Though the recruiting challenge often is ascribed simply to the operational circumstance, it is far bigger than that – the economy is the principal factor, he said. With the unemployment rate being at a low 4 and a half percent, there are numerous job opportunities for America’s youth.
“As we try to meet the challenge of recruiting people in the midst of a very strong economy, then we’ll look at ways that we can safely allow people who may have been disqualified to come aboard,” Carr said.
Potential recruits may be disqualified from joining the military due to stringent medical, moral, aptitude or administrative requirements. However, the military has historically offered waivers to a small percentage of those who are disqualified, on a case-by-case basis. And for the past four years, the number of recruiting waivers has remained near 20 percent.
“Waivers aren’t new; waivers have been with us for a number of years,” Carr said, “and the frequency of waivers continues to be pretty modest.”
For example, Carr said, individuals with asthma often were judged too harshly and barred from joining the military. However, adjustments have been made to allow a wider group of people with asthma to safely serve in the military after being approved by an epidemiologist.
Waivers for conduct or character are allowed on an individual basis, he said.
“Sometimes the media will suggest they are for great and high crime,” Carr said, “that’s simply not the case; those would normally not be waived.” Multiple traffic violations or misdemeanors are the most typical sources for character waivers, he said, but there are occasional instances when a waiver for a felony will be granted.
Most often these are felony arrests that have been dismissed or adjudicated as something less than a felony. For example, a young person sets a beehive on fire and it catches to a shed, therefore the charge is arson. “It was something that started out big in title, but was considered a small matter to the judge and to the community,” he said.
Defense officials recognize that some young people have made mistakes, but have overcome their past behavior and have demonstrated the potential for being productive members of the military, Carr said.
“When we’re looking at a waiver, we’re looking at what the community had to say about a person – those are the parents, teachers, coaches and clergy,” he said. “They know the person best, and if they recommend the person, then that carries some weight.”
Carr said the waiver system is successful, since the service of those who come in with a waiver is indistinguishable from those who don’t.
For example, Army Cpl. Angelo Vaccaro enlisted as a combat medic in 2004 after being granted a waiver. While deployed with the 10th Mountain Division to Afghanistan in 2006, he was killed by enemy forces while attempting to recover wounded soldiers from the battlefield.
Vaccaro was the first servicemember to receive two Silver Star medals in the global war on terror. He and a fellow medic were honored by the division when an installation medical training facility was named after them in June.
“We’re doing the right thing by listening to the community, and their performance bears it out,” Carr said. “We occasionally allow a person to falter and still come aboard, and that’s exactly what the nation would have us do.”