Attrition: Weed Waivers


June 20,2008: The U.S. Marine Corps wants to know if potential recruits have used marijuana even once. If they have, the recruit must get special permission (a "moral waiver") to get in. Last year, about half the 37,000 new recruits needed such moral waivers, mostly for the one time use of weed. This is pretty intense, but not that unusual. The recruiters have become much better of determining who's just been naughty, and who is beyond redemption when it comes to drug use.

As a result, the U.S. military, particularly the army and marines, no longer turns down recruits who have criminal records. For the last sixty years, recruiters turned down most recruits with a criminal record. The reason was that, since an army depended on discipline to function, anyone who broke the law had already demonstrated problems with following orders. Before September 11, 2001, the U.S. Army found that 27 percent of recruits with criminal records (and given a "moral waiver" to enlist), didn't finish their enlistment because of misconduct (refusing to obey orders, or just a bad attitude). This was twice the rate of troops who did not need a moral waiver. Back then, less than four percent of recruits got moral waivers. That usually required references from teachers, clergy or employers attesting to how the applicant had shaped up, and was worthy of acceptance. But since 2004, the percentage of recruit getting in with moral waivers has tripled to 13 percent. Yet there has not been a noticeable decline in troops quality. There is still a higher percentage of moral waiver recruits getting discharged early, but not double the rate of those without moral waivers.

All the services have been looking at potential recruits more carefully, and experimenting with new screening and training methods. This, in turn, has led to more careful study of exactly how well, or poorly, recruits do during their military service. These new methods have improved the quality of troops, while also expanding the number of potential recruits.


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