The U.S. Army is enlisting criminals and high school dropouts in order to overcome serious recruiting shortfalls
In 2005, Flyer noted, the Army fell far short of its goal of attracting 80,000 enlistees. It managed to meet that same target last year by deploying about 1,400 new recruiters, by offering larger enlistment bonuses and other incentives, and by systematically lowering educational standards for new recruits. For example, the portion of non–high school graduates in last year’s enlistee pool was 27.5 percent, up from 17 percent in 2005. In the 1990s, non-grads (most of whom do have a G.E.D.) made up only about 5 percent of new Army recruits.
There has also been an increase in the number of recruits coming in with “moral waivers” for a criminal history (a story covered last year by the Los Angeles Times). Last year, one in ten recruits had a prior misdemeanor or felony conviction. That adds up to 7,500 individuals, up from 4,000 in 2004. Meanwhile, a Hartford Courant series last year found that the military is enlisting (as well as redeploying) a growing number of mentally-troubled soldiers.
Recruits with a criminal history and non–high school grads are far more likely to perform poorly, commit acts of misconduct, and fail to complete their scheduled tours of duty. Judging from past results, about half of the non-grads will not complete their first four years of active duty, versus an expected “attrition” rate of about one-third for high school graduates. The Army is aware of these statistics, Flyer explains, but—having found no other way to meet its recruiting goals—it has looked the other way.
Even as the Army welcomes growing numbers of likely non-finishers and screwups, it is at the same time seeking to lower discharge rates artificially and thereby to reduce the pressure to sign up new enlistees. Military analysts estimate that every time the “failure rate” drops by one percent, the Army can cut by 3,000 the number of new recruits it needs in order to meet personnel levels.
According to Flyer, the Army has found several ways to keep those discharge rates artificially low. Basic training, which traditionally has been an important tool in weeding out the inept and unfit, has been made less difficult. “You'll get guys who have never run a mile,” an Army spokesman told USA Today in a story that ran last July. “Rather than throw them out, we said, ‘Let’s change the training so we don’t injure them’.”
In 2005 the Army reduced field commanders’ discretion in discharging problem cases. Then, last year, Army HQ sent a letter to all commanders stating that the discharge rate was too high and that this was putting undue pressure on recruiters to find new enlistees. Between 2005 and 2006, the Army’s discharge rate for troops in their first six months of training plummeted—from 18 percent to 8 percent.
All this is alarming given that the Army plans to expand significantly over the next five years. Flyer predicts the Army will meet its manpower needs by signing up even more people who never completed high school but got a G.E.D. “About 400,000 people a year get G.E.D.s,” he said, “so you’re talking about a pool of millions. In contrast to high school graduates, who are aggressively courted, most G.E.D.-ers are walk-ins.”
It’s difficult to imagine how the current strategy of dropping standards will build an effective fighting force. According to Flyer, the Army faces tremendous obstacles in bringing in enough high school graduates; the solution, then, is to use better marketing and more effective screening procedures to improve the quality of G.E.D. enlistees. “That’s the only way to save the Army, but they’re not likely to take action unless they are instructed to,” he said. So the quality of recruits will almost certainly keep dropping, and the Army will see its disciplinary problems and dropout rates continue to rise.
Don't Dumb Down the Army
Out of jail, into the Army
To Fill Ranks, Army Acts To Retain Even Problem Enlistees
Dismissed! We won't solve the military manpower crisis by retaining our worst soldiers