US Army more selective on recruits, re-enlistments
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press – 3 days ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — Uncle Sam may not want you after all.
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.
For a time during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army lowered its recruiting standards, raising the number of recruits who entered the Army with moral, medical and criminal — including felony — waivers.
Recruits with misdemeanors, which could range from petty theft and writing bad checks to assault, were allowed into the Army, as well as those with some medical problems or low aptitude scores that might otherwise have disqualified them.
A very small fraction of recruits had waivers for felonies, which included convictions for manslaughter, vehicular homicide, robbery and a handful of sex crimes. The sex crimes often involved consensual sex when one of the individuals was under 18.
In 2006, about 20 percent of new Army recruits came in under some type of waiver, and by the next year it had grown to nearly three in 10. After the Defense Department issued new guidelines, the percentage needing waivers started to come down in 2009.
Now, as the Army moves to reduce its force, some soldiers will have to leave.
Officials say they hope to make cuts largely through voluntary attrition. But Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has warned that as much as 35 percent of the cuts will be "involuntary" ones that force soldiers to abandon what they had hoped would be long military careers.
"This is going to be hard," said Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Army Forces Command. "This is tough business. As we increase things like re-enlistment standards, some of the people who were able to re-enlist three years ago won't be able to re-enlist again."
The Army, in an internal slide presentation, is blunt: "Re-enlistment is a privilege, not a right; some 'fully qualified' soldiers will be denied re-enlistment due to force realignment requirements and reductions in end strength."
In a memo earlier this year, Army Secretary John McHugh laid out more stringent criteria for denying re-enlistment, including rules that would turn away soldiers who have gotten a letter of reprimand for a recent incident involving the use of drugs or alcohol, or some soldiers who were unable to qualify for a promotion list.
"It's all focused on allowing us ... to retain only those soldiers who have the right skills, the right attributes and who help us meet the requirements and are those soldiers which truly have the greatest potential," said Army Brig. Gen. Richard P. Mustion, the Army's director of military personnel management.
Last year, as the budget and personnel cuts began to take hold, just a bit more than 10 percent of Army recruits needed waivers to join. The bulk of those — about 7 percent — were medical waivers, which can include poor eyesight that can be corrected. About 3 percent were for misconduct that did not involve convictions.
The decline in recent years was almost entirely on conduct waivers, not medical. As an example, there were 189 recruits with "major misconduct" waivers last year, and none with criminal convictions, compared to 546 misconduct waivers in 2009 and 220 with convictions.
Mustion said that as Army recruiters look at the applicants coming in they "are truly able to identify the very best soldiers, future soldiers, and those who display the greatest potential."
He said they are evaluating each one on his physical, academic and aptitude test performances "and, quite frankly, would they require a waiver to come into the military versus the next soldier who has the same credentials but wouldn't require a waiver."
Waivers have long been a source of debate. Military officials have defended the process, saying it allows good people who once made a minor mistake to enlist. But mid-level officers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan also told top defense officials that the dramatic rise in the number of bad-behavior waivers was a problem, that they were often spending too much time on "problem children."
. Steven Dale Green, a former 101st Airborne Division soldier, came into the Army on a morals waiver because of an earlier problem with drugs. He is now serving five life terms for killing an Iraqi family and raping and killing the 14-year-old daughter in March 2006.
With the economy struggling, it's still a recruit-rich environment. But Army officials worry that as the economy gets better, they may not get all the high quality recruits they need, and their best soldiers may decide not to re-enlist because they may do better in the corporate world.
For now, however, the Army is saving money in the process.
According to Mustion, soldiers in just six types of jobs are getting bonuses when they enlist: interpreter/translators, divers, cryptologic linguists, medical laboratory specialists and explosive ordnance disposal specialists. And those bonuses average about $3,300-$3,500, he said.
That is a steep drop from the $16,000-$18,000 bonuses the Army was paying on average to new recruits in 2007-08. In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, the Army paid nearly $860,000 in enlistment bonuses, compared to just $77,000 in the 2011 fiscal year.
Re-enlistment bonuses for soldiers now average about $7,500-$7,700.
Military leaders say the key goal is to shape the force as they cut, winnowing out not only the lesser qualified, but keeping the right number of soldiers in critical jobs and all across the ranks, particularly the mid-level officers.
"We need to keep the right balance," said Rodriguez. "We don't want a well-modernized force with no personnel that are trained."
The Army, he said, "can build a young soldier quickly, but we can't build a major and a sergeant quickly. So we have to figure out the right ratios as we move forward, and we have to be able to expand if we need to."
Lolita C. Baldor can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lbaldor .
Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Here is an article from 2008.
Dumb and Dumber
The U.S. Army lowers recruitment standards … again.
By Fred Kaplan|Posted Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, at 5:25 PM ET
The Army is lowering recruitment standards to levels not seen in at least two decades, and the implications are severe—not only for the future of the Army, but also for the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
The latest statistics—compiled by the Defense Department. and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Boston-based National Priorities Project—are grim. They show that the percentage of new Army recruits with high-school diplomas has plunged from 94 percent in 2003 to 83.5 percent in 2005 to 70.7 percent in 2007. (The Pentagon's longstanding goal is 90 percent.)
The percentage of what the Army calls "high-quality" recruits—those who have high-school diplomas and who score in the upper 50th percentile on the Armed Forces' aptitude tests—has declined from 56.2 percent in 2005 to 44.6 percent in 2007.
In order to meet recruitment targets, the Army has even had to scour the bottom of the barrel. There used to be a regulation that no more than 2 percent of all recruits could be "Category IV"—defined as applicants who score in the 10th to 30th percentile on the aptitude tests. In 2004, just 0.6 percent of new soldiers scored so low. In 2005, as the Army had a hard time recruiting, the cap was raised to 4 percent. And in 2007, according to the new data, the Army exceeded even that limit—4.1 percent of new recruits last year were Cat IVs.
These trends are worrisome in at least four ways.
First, and most broadly, it's not a good idea—for a host of social, political, and moral reasons—to place the burdens of national defense so disproportionately on the most downtrodden citizens.
Second, and more practically, high-school dropouts tend to drop out of the military, too. The National Priorities Project cites Army studies finding that 80 percent of high-school graduates finish their first terms of enlistment in the Army—compared with only about half of those with a General Equivalency Degree or no diploma. In other words, taking in more dropouts is a short-sighted method of boosting recruitment numbers. The Army will just have to recruit even more young men and women in the next couple of years, because a lot of the ones they recruited last year will need to be replaced.
Third, a dumber army is a weaker army. A study by the RAND Corporation, commissioned by the Pentagon and published in 2005, evaluated several factors that affect military performance—experience, training, aptitude, and so forth—and found that aptitude is key. This was true even of basic combat skills, such as shooting straight. Replacing a tank gunner who had scored Category IV with one who'd scored Category IIIA (in the 50th to 64th percentile) improved the chances of hitting a target by 34 percent.
Today's Army, of course, is much more high-tech, from top to bottom. The problem is that when tasks get more technical, aptitude makes an even bigger difference. In one Army study cited by the RAND report, three-man teams from the Army's active-duty signal battalions were told to make a communications system operational. Teams consisting of Category IIIA personnel had a 67 percent chance of succeeding. Teams with Category IIIB soldiers (who had ranked in the 31st to 49th percentile) had a 47 percent chance. Those with Category IVs had only a 29 percent chance. The study also showed that adding a high-scoring soldier to a three-man team increased its chance of success by 8 percent. (This also means that adding a low-scoring soldier to a team reduces its chance by a similar margin.)
Fourth, today's Army needs particularly bright soldiers—and it needs, even more, to weed out particularly dim ones—given the direction that at least some of its senior officers want it to take. When the Army was geared to fight large-scaled battles against enemies of comparable strength, imaginative thinking wasn't much required except at a command level. However, now that it's focusing on "asymmetric warfare," especially counterinsurgency campaigns, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, the requirements are different. The crucial engagements—in many ways, the crucial decisions—take place in the streets, door to door, not by armored divisions or brigades but by infantry companies and squads. And when the targets include hearts and minds, every soldier's judgment and actions have an impact.
The Army's 2006 <a data-linktype="Internal" href="http://www.slate.com...2145175/">field manual on counterinsurgency, which was supervised by Gen. David Petraeus (who is now trying to put its principles into action as U.S. commander in Iraq), emphasized that successful counterinsurgency operations "require Soldiers and Marines at every echelon to possess the following"—and then the authors recite a daunting list of prerequisites, including a "clear, nuanced, and empathetic appreciation of the essential nature of the conflict," an "understanding of the motivation, strengths, and weaknesses of the insurgent," rudimentary knowledge of the local culture, and several other admirable qualities.
Some of the officers and outside specialists who helped Petraeus write the field manual expressed concerns to me, at the time, that the Army—which was just beginning to lower its standards—might not be up to the demands of this kind of warfare. Given that standards have dipped quite dramatically since—and add to that the problems the Army has had in retaining its most talented junior officers—the concerns now must be graver.
It's well-known that the Army might not have enough combat troops to conduct sustained counterinsurgency campaigns. Now it seems the problem may soon be about quality as well as quantity (brains as well as boots).
The main reason for the decline in standards is the war in Iraq and its onerous "operations tempo"—soldiers going back for third and fourth tours of duty, with no end in sight. This is well understood among senior officers, and it's a major reason why several Army generals favor a faster withdrawal rate. They worry that fewer young men and women—and now it seems fewer smart young men and women—will sign up if doing so means a guaranteed assignment to Iraq. They worry that, if these trends continue, the Army itself will start to crumble.
So, there's a double spiral in effect. The war keeps more good soldiers from enlisting. The lack of good candidates compels the Army to recruit more bad candidates. The swelling ranks of ill-suited soldiers make it harder to fight these kinds of wars effectively.
Petraeus and officers who think like him are right: We're probably not going to be fighting on the ground, toe-to-toe and tank-to-tank, with the Russian, Chinese, or North Korean armies in the foreseeable future. Yet if the trends continue, our Army might be getting less and less skilled at the "small wars" we're more likely to fight.
So, we're facing two choices. Either we change the way we recruit soldiers (and, by the way, cash bonuses are already about as bountiful as they're going to get), or we change the way we conduct foreign policy—that is, we engage more actively in diplomacy or, if war is unavoidable, we form genuine coalitions to help fight it. Otherwise, unless our most dire and direct interests are at stake, we should forget about fighting at all.
Edited by The Situation, 25 May 2012 - 05:06 PM.