Settling for a lower standard

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Pentagon has announced a plan to ease standards for recruits with minor criminal records.

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 review, in its early stages, comes 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 in 2006 to 18 percent this year. And it reflects the services' growing use of criminal, health and other waivers to build their ranks.

The goal of the review is to make cumbersome waiver requirements consistent across the services -- the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force -- and reduce the number of petty crimes that now trigger the process.

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 get waivers even if they were never convicted of the crime.

The U.S, military has to make restrictions realistic in order to fill its ranks. Still, we cannot pretend that lowering standards carries no consequences.

Some people think that the U.S. military is an excellent place for rebellious youth, providing the youth with discipline while fulfilling the military's need for warm bodies to perform menial tasks.

To the extent that this might have been true at one time, it has been outdated for about half a century, relating to a time when rebellious youth were not the norm and could be kept in line largely through the culture of conformity and respect adhered to by most of their peers.

There have been other changes since then that have had an impact on the role of the military. Even infantry soldiers handle increasingly sophisticated equipment and a higher portion of soldiers now need to be specialists with technical skills.

The soldier's role is often that of a peacekeeper, requiring restraint and diplomacy in a hostile environment. We simply cannot expect the job of being a soldier to be performed by anyone capable of putting on a uniform.