A central theme to this long-running hissy-fit has been the waivering of troops. When the fiscal year 2006 recruiting statistics were released, my jaw hit the floor when I saw that fully 17% were waivered. Once I got my head around the fact that practically one in five recruits were individuals who the recruiter would never have called back five years ago, I started digging a little deeper and found that not only are we admitting a bunch of hinky troops, the leadership is undermined and compromised to a staggering degree. Two years ago I started posting about a dearth of officers when I found out that the Army had 3500 unfilled Officer billets and the Army Reserves had 11,000 vacancies in the O-1 through O-3 (Lieutenants and Captains) ranks alone. Those numbers mean something to me, and I started studying the issues surrounding recruiting and retention.
The truth of the matter is, it is getting harder and harder for the military to make recruiting and retention goals. Twice in less than a year, a thousand recruiters have been involuntarily recalled to recruiting duty as huge pushes have been made to get the numbers up and make quotas. Stories of recruiters telling egregious lies are commonplace. In 2005, recruiting was halted for a day and everyone attended a retraining workshop after it came to light that recruiters were helping teenagers lie to their parents, coaching potential enlistees to lie when filling out official documents, offering advice on how to beat drug tests and, when all else failed, bullying. One recruiter at this time was caught on tape threatening a potential soldier with jail time if he failed to keep an appointment.
A year after that stand-down, recruiters were caught telling students that the war in Iraq was over and troops were coming home. The lying has continued and will continue. Operate from that assumption. Recruiters are salesmen, and they are peddling a product that isn't exactly flying off the shelves these days.
As the wars grind on and the the pool of potential recruits dwindles, and recruiters continue to operate under sharp scrutiny for the more excessive bullshit they floated, the use of waivers has increased as recruiters struggle to meet their recruiting goals. The number of recruits admitted to the Army after felony convictions has more than doubled every year for the last two years.
And this all has Henry Waxman asking questions.
Recruits were allowed to enlist after having been convicted of crimes including assault, burglary, drug possession and making terrorist threats.
The statistics were released by Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
He has given the Pentagon a month to hand over up-to-date details on the number of waivers granted, reports on how the recruits have performed and information about how the waivers are related to meeting recruitment goals.
"There was a rapid rise in 2007 in the number of waivers the Army and Marine Corps granted to recruits convicted of serious felonies," Waxman said in a letter Monday to David Chu, the under-secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"I understand that there can be valid reasons for personnel waivers and recognize the importance of providing opportunities to individuals who have served their sentences and rehabilitated themselves.
"At the same time, concerns have been raised that the significant increase in the recruitment of persons with criminal records is a result of the strain put on the military by the Iraq war and may be undermining military readiness," he charged.
I welcome Waxman's queries into this issue, and encourage Skelton and Levin to get involved with it as well. As it stands right now, the United States Army is facing a three-decade rebuilding process. Every single military topic discussed and decision made needs to be considered with that long term reality considered. This stuff isn't optional.