By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The percentage of recruits requiring a waiver to join the Army because of a criminal record or other past misconduct has more than doubled since 2004 to one for every eight new soldiers.
The increase reflects the difficulties the Army faces in attracting young men and women into the military at a time of war. "Each month is a struggle, for the Army in particular," said Bill Carr, a top military personnel official.
The percentage of active and Reserve Army recruits granted "conduct" waivers for misdemeanor or felony charges increased to 11% last fiscal year from 4.6% in fiscal 2004, according to Army Recruiting Command statistics. So far this fiscal year, which began last October, 13% of recruits have entered the Army with conduct waivers.
Most waivers involve misdemeanors. The Army has granted 4,676 conduct waivers among the 36,047 recruited from October through late February. The waivers have helped the Army meet its active and Reserve recruitment goals of about 100,000 people a year for the past several years.
A recruit needs a waiver if he or she has one felony or serious misdemeanor or more than three minor misdemeanors. For example, a single charge of possessing marijuana or driving under the influence requires a waiver. Minor infractions include disorderly conduct, trespassing or vandalism.
No exceptions can be made for a number of serious offenses, including sexual crimes or offenses related to drug or alcohol addiction.
Carr and others say the military has granted waivers without hurting the quality of recruits. Exceptions are granted after examining recommendations from teachers, coaches and others. "We don't look at them unless their community stands behind them," Carr said.
In another shift in the backgrounds of new Army personnel, the percentage of high school graduates among Army recruits was 79% last year, compared with 91% in 2001.
Recruits who have come in with waivers generally perform better than peers who haven't needed special permission to join the Army, Carr said.
"When you have people volunteering that have made some mistakes in their life, you give them fair consideration," said Frank Shaffery, deputy director of the Army's Recruiting Command.
The Air Force and Navy, smaller forces which have fewer troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, generally haven't faced the same recruiting pressures. Waivers for the Marine Corps have remained relatively flat for the past four years, according to Pentagon data.
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