Article published Nov 7, 2007
Military reviews criminal waivers
The Washington Times

November 7, 2007

Associated Press - Faced with higher recruiting goals, the Pentagon is quietly looking for ways to make it easier for people with minor criminal records to join the military, the Associated Press has learned.

The review, in its early stages, was started as the number of Army recruits needing waivers for bad behavior — such as trying drugs, stealing, carrying weapons on school grounds and fighting — rose from 15 percent last year to 18 percent this year.

Overall, about three of every 10 recruits must get a waiver, according to Pentagon statistics obtained by AP. About two-thirds of waivers approved in recent years have been for criminal behavior. Some recruits must obtain more than one waiver to cover situations ranging from a criminal record to health problems such as asthma or flat feet to some tattoos.

The goal of the review is to make cumbersome waiver requirements consistent across the four services and reduce the number of petty crimes that now trigger the process. Still, some Army officers worry that disciplinary problems will grow as more soldiers with records, past drug use and behavior problems are recruited.

Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel, said the review is necessary. Now, he said, many recruits who were arrested as juveniles for what can be considered youthful indiscretions — minor fights or theft — are forced to obtain waivers even if they were never convicted of the crime.

"I do believe it needs to be done," Gen. Rochelle said of the waiver review. "There are really anomalies out there."

The waivers require more time, paperwork and investigation, from detailed health screenings to testimonials about past bad behavior. Senior recruiting officers or higher-ranking commanders can make the final decision, depending on the circumstances. In addition, many waiver requirements differ from service to service, and some officials and recruiters say the policies should be more uniform.

The starkest difference involves Marines and drug use. The Marines require a waiver for one-time marijuana use, while the other services don't, and 69 percent of conduct waivers for Marines who joined from October 2006 to June 2007 were for previous drug use. It was 12 percent for the Army.

The bulk of the Army's conduct waivers during that time — 71 percent — were for serious misdemeanors, which can include thefts worth more than $500, any incident involving a dangerous weapon on school grounds, or minor assaults and fights. A waiver is required even if the recruit was a juvenile and the charge was dismissed after restitution, community service or other conditions were met.

Army recruiters attending a recent conference in Denver said they often encounter would-be soldiers whose records are tainted by minor offenses.

Several related the story of a 15-year-old who was trying to smoke out bees in a hive and accidentally set the hive on fire. The flames spread to a nearby house and caused damage. Police charged the youth with arson as a juvenile. At 22, he tried to join the Army, and officials had to go through the waiver process to get him admitted.

In another instance, detailed by the Pentagon, two 14-year-olds had a fight at school, and police charged both with aggravated assault. One was charged with using a deadly weapon — a shoe. That person is now 18 and needs a waiver to join the service.