Recently, there were a number of
media stories about how the U.S. Army has been recruiting more men with
criminal records. When pressed about this, the army released a report showing
that recruits let in via "moral waivers" made better combat soldiers. That is,
they got promoted faster, re-enlisted at a higher rate, got more awards for
valor and were noted for superior combat performance. They were also better
educated, and more likely to talk back. A slightly higher percentage of them
got punished for that.
is nothing new. It was noted as far back as World War II, when detailed records
of troop performance were first compiled and analyzed. A disproportionate
number of troops that excelled in combat, also had disciplinary problems when
off the battlefield. The conventional wisdom was that someone with a "taste for
combat" also lacked respect for authority. Research since World War II has
shown that risk-taking behavior is the basis of brave acts, as well as criminal
ones, drug use, and addiction to things like gambling and dangerous sports.
Army has, for the last sixty years, turned down most recruits with a criminal
record. The reason was that, since an army (especially in peacetime) depended
on discipline to function, anyone who broke the law had already demonstrated
problems with following orders. Before September 11, 2001, the 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.
has found ways to lower its traditional admission standards, yet still get
people who can perform well in a professional force. This is not just the case with those who do
poorly on written tests, or did not finish high school. It's especially the
case with those allowed in on waivers. The most common items waived are medical
conditions, criminal records or drug use, in that order. Last year, most of the moral waivers were for
juvenile offenses. Less than one percent (511) of last years recruits (80,407)
received moral waivers for adult criminal records. Keep in mind that the
numbers were talking about here are small, and that the negative impact of
recruits with moral waivers is basically non-existent.
waivers are for medical problems. For example, many urban recruits have asthma
problems. If the recruit is headed for a job that does not require the kind of
physical effort that low grade asthma would interfere with, a waiver would be
granted. If a prospect has a low grade (no felonies) criminal record, and
appears to have moved on from that sort of thing, a waiver is possible. Same
with prior drug use. Prospects are made aware of the regular, unannounced, drug
tests for troops on active duty. Asking for testimonials from responsible
adults helps deal with those seeking moral waivers. The army also has new
psychological tests that indicate those that have put their bad behavior behind
them, and which haven't.