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Recruiting Standards Remain High Despite Waivers

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2008 – The Defense Department maintains stringent standards for its recruits, despite an increase in felons the military services accept.

A senior defense official said waivers sometimes are granted to people who commit “youthful pranks that went way too far,” but not to dangerous criminals.

The military granted waivers to 903 felons in 2007, 511 of them for the Army and 350 for the Marine Corps, Bill Carr, acting deputy under secretary for military personnel policy, told American Forces Press Service. These numbers, up from 249 in the Army and 208 for the Marine Corps in 2006, constitute a tiny fraction of all incoming recruits -- one half of one percent, Carr said.

Contrary to what media reports imply, the waivers weren’t granted to hardened criminals fresh out of prison, Carr said. Mostly they’re granted to people who made mistakes when they were younger, but then straightened up to become responsible citizens, he said.

The military is extremely judicious in granting the waivers and limits the number granted each year. A general officer must approve all such applications. Those with “sinister crimes” are automatically eliminated. Only those who show they’ve turned around and have potential in the military get a chance to enlist.

“The military determines that they’re worth betting on and gives them a second chance,” Carr said.

In a tough recruiting environment, the practice serves the military too. Two-thirds of the American youth population is disqualified to enlist by today’s military entrance standards, said Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman. Medical conditions account for most of the disqualifications, and medical waivers make up the biggest percentage of waivers granted.

Of waivers granted to felons, most were to individuals involved in crimes against property. Typically, the offenses occurred years before the waivers were granted, Withington said.

One recruit described in news reports as a “bomber” actually was a young person who blew up a mailbox using a soda bottle full of gunpowder, Carr said. “It was more of a youthful prank than the sinister activity that some of the media suggest,” he said. That offense occurred two years before the waiver was granted.

Another recruit had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter resulting from driving under the influence of alcohol three years before receiving the waiver. Several recruits had been convicted of sexual offenses, most involving consensual sex with a minor and typically years before the military waiver was granted.

Carr has a message to parents concerned about who their son or daughter joining the military may serve with.

“They should feel assured that we are very careful about who their children serve alongside,” he said. “These are generally people of respectable character who made a terrible move in their youth, but have made a dramatic turnaround.”

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