Out of jail, into the Army
By Mark Benjamin
Under Air National Guard rules, the dealer had committed a "major offense" that would bar him from military service. Air National Guard recruits, like other members of the military, cannot have drug convictions on their record. But on Feb. 2, 2005, the applicant who had been arrested in the mini-mall was admitted into the Delaware Air National Guard. How? Through the use of a little-known, but increasingly important, escape clause known as a waiver. Waivers, which are generally approved at the Pentagon, allow recruiters to sign up men and women who otherwise would be ineligible for service because of legal convictions, medical problems or other reasons preventing them from meeting minimum standards.
The story of that unnamed Air National Guard recruit (whose name is blacked out in his statement) is based on documents obtained by Salon under the Freedom of Information Act. It illustrates one of the tactics that the military is using in its uphill battle to meet recruiting targets during the Iraq war. The personnel problems are acute. The Air National Guard, for example, missed its recruiting target by 14 percent last year. And the regular Army missed its goal by 8 percent, its largest recruiting shortfall since 1979.
This is where waivers come in. According to statistics provided to Salon by the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the Army said that 17 percent (21,880 new soldiers) of its 2005 recruits were admitted under waivers. Put another way, more soldiers than are in an entire infantry division entered the Army in 2005 without meeting normal standards. This use of waivers represents a 42 percent increase since the pre-Iraq year of 2000. (All annual figures used in this article are based on the government's fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. So fiscal year 2006 began Oct. 1, 2005.)
In fact, even the already high rate of 17 percent underestimates the use of waivers, as the Pentagon combined the Army's figures with the lower ones for reserve forces to dilute the apparent percentage. Equally significant is the Army's currently liberal use of "moral waivers," which are issued to recruits who have committed what are loosely defined as criminal offenses. Officially, the Pentagon states that most waivers issued on moral grounds are for minor infractions like traffic tickets. Yet documents obtained by Salon show that many of the offenses are more serious and include drunken driving and domestic abuse.
Read the rest at Salon.com (click for free day pass)