Attrition: U.S. Army Speeds Up Expansion


October 3, 2007: The U.S. Army wants an additional $2.8 billion so that it can increase its strength by 74,000 troops in four years, instead of five (as Congress has mandated.) The army believes it is capable of recruiting the additional personnel more quickly than it believed possible last year, when army officials and Congress hammered out the deal. The techniques the army is using are somewhat controversial, as they include recruiting more people who did not graduate from high school, or have had trouble with the law (drugs or petty crime). For decades, it's been accepted that the most successful recruits are those who have graduated from high school, and have no police record. But the army has long known that many high school drop outs, or young people with police records, can make excellent soldiers. The problem has always been determining which of the drop outs and juvenile delinquents were worth letting in. The problem with these potential recruits is that they are more expensive to train (because of disciplinary problems, or difficulty learning) and are more likely to be tossed out (thus wasting all that was invested in their training.) In the last decade, the army has made a lot of progress in improving how accurately it screens risky candidates. It's not just the improved selection process, but improved training methods as well. A lot of high school drop outs were poorly served by bad urban schools. Similarly, many of those with criminal records had already put that sort of thing behind them, and were looking to the army for a new beginning.

Until recently, less than ten percent of army recruits had been high school dropouts. But in the last decade, that has grown to 24 percent, with no noticeable decline in the quality of troops. Same thing with those receiving "moral waivers" (for having a police record). That has gone from 4.6 percent four years ago, to 6.2 percent. The more accurate recruitment and training methods are also widely used in the civilian sector, where employers don't want to miss out on any potentially good workers.


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