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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

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We take who we can get

Army Giving More Waivers in Recruiting

Published: February 14, 2007

The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 in 2006 from 4,918 in 2003, Department of Defense records show.

During that time, the Army has employed a variety of tactics to expand its diminishing pool of recruits. It has offered larger enlistment cash bonuses, allowed more high school dropouts and applicants with low scores on its aptitude test to join, and loosened weight and age restrictions.

It has also increased the number of so-called “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal pasts, even as the total number of recruits dropped slightly. The sharpest increase was in waivers for serious misdemeanors, which make up the bulk of all the Army’s moral waivers. These include aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and vehicular homicide.

The number of waivers for felony convictions also increased, to 11 percent of the 8,129 moral waivers granted in 2006, from 8 percent.

Waivers for less serious crimes like traffic offenses and drug use have dropped or remained stable.

The Army enlisted 69,395 men and women last year.

While soldiers with criminal histories made up only 11.7 percent of the Army recruits in 2006, the spike in waivers raises concerns about whether the military is making too many exceptions to try to meet its recruitment demands in a time of war. Most felons, for example, are not permitted to carry firearms, and many criminals have at some point exhibited serious lapses in discipline and judgment, traits that are far from ideal on the battlefield.

The military automatically excludes people who have committed certain crimes. They include drug traffickers, recruits who have more than one felony on their record or people who have committed sexually violent crimes. A felony is defined as a crime that carries a sentence of a year or more in prison.

Bill Carr, the under secretary of military personnel policy, said the military granted waivers selectively and scrutinized a recruit’s full record, the nature of the crime, when it was committed, the degree of rehabilitation and references from teachers, employers, coaches and clergy members.

In many cases, Mr. Carr said, the applicant may have committed the crime at a young age and then stayed out of trouble. To his knowledge, he said, recruits who are issued moral waivers are not tracked once inside the military.

“If the community backs them, we are willing to take a hard look,” Mr. Carr said, referring to the waiver process, which includes checks of local, state and federal records.

The majority of moral waivers are for serious misdemeanors, most often committed by juveniles. As Douglas Smith, the public information officer for the Army’s recruiting command, said, “We understand that people make mistakes in their lives and they can overcome those mistakes.”

Fewer than 3 in 10 people ages 17 to 24 are fully qualified to join the Army. That means they have a high school diploma, have met aptitude test score requirements and fitness levels, and would not be barred for medical reasons, their sexual orientation or their criminal histories.

Steven Green