By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 06, 2008) -- Despite a rise in conduct waivers offered to recruits last year, Army officials emphasized the service is not lowering its standards -- explaining that circumstances surrounding each case and the recent behavior of those recruits earned them a second look.
"First off, every Soldier that comes into the Army is fully qualified for the job they take," said Lt. Col. Val Siegfried, the Army branch chief for enlisted accessions. "Second, we're not letting murderers in and we're not letting in sexual predators."
In fact, Siegfried says, the Soldiers let into the ranks with conduct waivers are of the same caliber as Soldiers without those waivers, and by some measure, Soldiers with conduct waivers perform even better than their counterparts.
The Army's G-1 recently conducted a study of enlistees accessed from FY03-FY06. The study compared 258,270 Soldiers who did not need conduct waivers and 17,961 who did. Waivers are required for recruits with felonies, traffic violations, or non-traffic- related violations.
The study did find differences between the two groups. For instance, the conduct waiver population re-enlisted at a higher rate. The conduct waiver Soldiers also earned a higher ratio of valorous awards and combat badges -- 13.87 percent compared to 12.73 percent. Additionally, the conduct waiver population included more high school graduates, higher scores on the ASVAB, and fewer Soldiers scoring in the "Cat 4" range on that test.
However, the Army also found that Soldiers who required conduct waivers had higher losses in six of nine "adverse loss categories." That included a .27 percent loss rate for alcohol rehabilitation failure verses the non-waiver population's loss rate of .12 percent; a misconduct rate of 5.95 percent verses the non-waiver population of 3.55 percent; and a desertion rate of 4.26 percent compared to 3.59 percent. However, the attrition due to personality disorders, entry-level performance or unsatisfactory performance for Soldiers with waivers was less than their non-waiver counterparts.
In all, the study shows that the differences between Soldiers that came in with conduct waivers and those that did not are negligible -- the Army lost about 2.3 more Soldiers per 100 due to "adverse losses" than it did among the non-waiver population.
"Statistically, it is kind of insignificant," Siegfried said.
The process for granting conduct waivers is tightly controlled, Siegfried said. For starters, individuals who have committed murder or sexually violent crimes, or those who have been convicted for dealing drugs or who are themselves dependent on drugs or alcohol, are automatically excluded from consideration for service.
The Army also excludes those individuals who have charges pending against them or who are on probation or parole. Today's All-Volunteer Army no longer takes those who have been ordered to join the military by the court in lieu of prosecution -- that means no more Soldiers who signed up to avoid going to jail.
Siegfried said the Army enlists only those individuals deemed capable of serving honorably -- including those who may have committed some wrongdoing in the past, but who have repaid their debt to society and have since made something of themselves.
"We're letting in people who made mistakes in their youth, who paid their penance for those mistakes and who have been able to prove to the Army that they merit a second chance and we can use them," Siegfried said. "We look at the full, whole person concept. We realize these individuals have made mistakes, but we evaluate what have they done after the mistake was made."
For a recruit with a felony on his record, his enlistment waiver must run a gauntlet of 10 individuals, including a general officer, before it can be approved, Siegfried said. For those with misdemeanors on their record, their waivers must be approved by up to six individuals. Those charged with, but not convicted of a felony, must have their waivers processed as though they were convicted.
"If that person gets in a fight in high school, and a shoe was their 'deadly weapon' -- in today's environment the cops come and haul them down to the police station and charge them with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Then they go to court and they do 10 hours of community service," Siegfried said. "We still treat that as aggravated assault."
Last year, the Army let in some 511 recruits that required a conduct waiver for felony crimes. Some of those felony crimes include:
• A 12-year-old, "trying to mimic a bee keeper using smoke to calm down bees in a hive," lit a bee hive on fire, which caught the tree on fire, which then burned the siding of a house. Because of the classification of arson as a felony, he must get a waiver.
• A 13-year-old male was arrested after school officials discovered a letter that contained anti-Semitic comments, purportedly written by the subject. It was later determined that the subject's twin brother had written the letter, but only after the adjudication of the offense.
• A 14-year-old male was charged for having consensual intercourse with his 14-year-old girlfriend.
• A 14-year-old male was driving his parent's automobile without their knowledge. A friend, riding on top of the car, was thrown from the roof of the vehicle. He later died from his injuries. The driver was convicted of vehicular manslaughter.
Times are tough for recruiters today, Siegfried said. In recent years, the number of recruits that are "fully qualified" to enter any branch of military service has dwindled. The Army looks at a population of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 as its "ideal candidate" for recruitment. In the United States, that includes about 31.5 million potential Soldiers.
But that population of 31.5 million dwindles quickly -- to about 8.4 million -- when the Army takes in to account the many factors that affect Soldier quality: obesity, medical issues, drug dependency, criminal history, and substandard aptitude based on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery.
"We are looking at about 31.5 million people out there in America, but only 3 out of 10 of those are fully qualified to come in the Army," Siegfried said.
Within that group of potential Soldiers, there is also the issue of propensity to enlist -- do they even want to come in to the military.
"We are fighting two wars now, and the propensity to enlist is at an all-time low," Siegfried said. "Only about 9 percent of the people want to come in."
The influencers of those potential recruits -- the parents, teachers, coaches, councilors or pastors -- are also less likely to encourage military service.
"They have a yellow ribbon on their car, and they are proud of the other people's kids who serve," Siegfried said. "But they are less likely to tell their own kids they need to contribute to their Nation through military service."
When young men and women are lined up at the recruiter's door, it's easy to take the ones with no criminal background, impeccable grades in high school, good health, good physical fitness and good credit scores -- the basic screening criteria, Siegfried said.
But a difficult recruiting environment does not mean the Army lowers its standards to meet its recruiting goals. Instead, the Army works harder to find out the actual circumstances behind the past of a recruit in order to show he or she is going to be good for the Army, Siegfried said.
For the Army, it's worth it to put in the extra effort to uncover the details behind a potential Soldier's background. It means the Army gets to enlist more good Soldiers, and for young American's who have made a mistake in the past, it provides them an opportunity that most of society is unwilling to offer -- a chance to redeem themselves .
"There are some guys out there that have made mistakes in their lives and fixed their mistakes," Siegfried said. "Now they are doing great things. You look at this, overall, they are reenlisting more, getting promoted quicker and answering the Nation's Call to Duty with exemplary service in combat. These individuals serve as a sterling reminder to us all that America is the place of second chances."