Pentagon shouldn’t cast off capable troops

The U.S. military is in the midst of an ongoing recruiting problem – it doesn’t have enough people enlisting.

The failure to meet recruitment goals has unsurprisingly coincided with the Iraq war. In their effort to boost numbers, recruiters have been accused of making promises to potential recruits that they cannot keep and targeting low-income students, among other tactics.

When the recruitment goal still failed to materialize, the Army began lowering the standards required to join, such as accepting those who scored in the bottom third of the military’s aptitude test.

Now the Baltimore Sun reports that the military has sharply increased the number of recruits who would normally be barred because of criminal misconduct, or alcohol or illegal drug problems. The Sun reported that the largest single category of waivers issued were for recruits with medical problems. However, the largest increase was among recruits with a history of criminal conduct or alcohol problems, according to the Army.

There was also a significant increase in the number of recruits with “serious criminal misconduct” in their background, the Army reported. Such misconduct includes aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and – amazingly – making terrorist threats, according to Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

Despite this potential influx of recruits-with-a-record, the Army still failed to meet its recruitment goal. Which probably isn’t such a bad thing.

“By and large, these are flawed recruits,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “Those getting waivers won’t be the sergeants we want.”

Far better than lowering standards is the Army’s plan, under a new law, to offer financial bonuses for enlistments and re-enlistments – doubling the maximum payment to new active duty recruits from $20,000 to $40,000 and from $10,000 to $20,000 for reservists.

The Army has another way to help maintain critical numbers in the military: Drop the whole Clinton-era “Don’t ask, don’t tell” fiasco. At the same time the Army is allowing aptitude-test-challenged recruits with possible criminal records to join, it is still discharging highly qualified and decorated soldiers without criminal records who happen to be gay.

A private report concluded that discharging troops under the Pentagon’s policy on gays cost $363.8 million over 10 years, almost double what the government said it cost. A University of California Blue Ribbon Commission concluded that the Government Accountability Office erred by emphasizing the expense of replacing those who were discharged without taking into account the value the military lost from the departures.

The military is hurting itself with its own policies, which is something a nation, especially one at war, can’t afford.

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