--from the New York Times
Published: February 20, 2007
The Iraq war has plunged the Army into a vicious cycle of declining standards. Multiple, extended tours of duty have sapped morale and blighted recruiting. New plans for a larger overall force could reduce pressures but would also mean that recruiters would have to meet higher quotas.
To keep filling the ranks, the Army has had to keep lowering its expectations. Diluting educational, aptitude and medical standards has not been enough. Nor have larger enlistment bonuses plugged the gap. So the Army has found itself recklessly expanding the granting of “moral waivers,” which let people convicted of serious misdemeanors and even some felonies enlist in its ranks.
Last year, such waivers were granted to 8,129 men and women — or more than one out of every 10 new Army recruits. That number is up 65 percent since 2003, the year President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. In the last three years, more than 125,000 moral waivers have been granted by America’s four military services.
Most of last year’s Army waivers were for serious misdemeanors, like aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and vehicular homicide. But around 900 — double the number in 2003 — were for felonies. Worse, the Army does no systematic tracking of recruits with waivers once it signs them up, and it does not always pay enough attention to any adjustment problems. Without adequate monitoring and counseling, handing out guns to people who have already committed crimes poses a danger to the other soldiers they serve with and to the innocent civilians they are supposed to protect.
There is a long and honorable history of young people who have had minor scrapes with the law joining the military and successfully turning their lives around. But those who have committed more serious crimes, especially those involving weapons, vehicular homicide or sexual abuse, should generally be denied moral waivers. And those who do qualify for waivers should be monitored, counseled and carefully supervised.
The fastest way to drop the rate of moral waivers would be for the Army to rebuild its recently tarnished reputation among less problematic young Americans. That will require an end to involuntarily extended tours of duty and accelerated, multiple redeployments into combat. The military is America’s face to much of the world. It ought to present the best face of American youth.