In 2006, the United States was facing two wars on two different fronts. After the initial influx of people enlisting to support the effort, the U.S. Army’s recruitment efforts were hampered by the needs of two wars and a dwindling supply of willing suitable recruits. As a result, the Army lowered its standards for potential soldiers.
That year, the Army began issuing waivers for people who would not normally qualify for service. This included increasing the percentage of recruits that had low scoring aptitude tests, as well as those who received waivers for moral and medical reasons. Moral waivers would be for things like misdemeanor arrests and criminal behavior (including robbery and manslaughter). Medical waivers would include previous drug and alcohol problems, including previously failed drug tests.
The Army also traditionally gave signing bonuses, amounting to a few thousand dollars for highly technical positions and those requiring specific skills. To boost enlistment, the number of positions that qualified for bonuses increased, as well as the dollar amounts, increased dramatically, with some bonuses as high as $18,000. Other standards, such as certain tattoos, age and fitness were also lowered over time in order to keep up with the personnel demands.
With the changes came criticism that the normally high standards of the Army were being compromised unnecessarily. The Army’s official line was they understood that “everyone makes mistakes” and such things as testing aren’t always an accurate assessment of a person’s capabilities. Not to mention, recruitment is always hard during a time of war.
The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 brought in hope that an end to the wars would be a real possibility. It wouldn’t be until 2011 that the United States would officially declare the end of the Iraq War. It also marked the beginning of the end of the Army’s lax policies.
Beginning in April 2012, new grooming regulations were issued for soldiers that addressed everything from men’s sideburns and beards to women’s makeup and manicures to banning things like gold teeth. Failure to comply with the new standards would result in punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They then addressed several of the changes regarding new recruits. Previous misdemeanors and criminal records were no longer ignored and would make a recruit ineligible for enlistment. They also lowered the maximum enlistment age back down to 34, having previously raised it to 42 during the height of the conflicts. Scores on the aptitude test also had to be higher in order to be accepted and the sky-high signing bonuses disappeared.
Now they are tightening the standards even more.
With the anticipated troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and recent budget cuts, the Pentagon announced in February efforts to reduce troop size to pre-World War II levels. In response, the Army began creating new standards that make it harder to enlist and, this time, to even remain in the Army. In March, new grooming standards were, once again, introduced. In addition to controversial hair standards for women, they also focused on tattoos, particularly those that could not be covered up with the uniform, such as on the neck, wrist or hands. These tattoos had been previously allowed for those that enlisted during the more lax standards.
While they will be grandfathered in and be allowed to remain, they will not be allowed to move up in the ranks.
Non-commissioned soldiers (soldiers that are not officers) with the now banned tattoos cannot request or be appointed to be commissioned to officer or warrant from the enlisted ranks. It is now harder for higher ranking enlisted soldiers to reenlist. Those with negative marks on their records will not be allowed to remain. Those that do have the option to reenlist may be required to retrain for other jobs in order to continue serving. The Army admits that many qualified soldiers may not be able to remain on active duty.
They also can afford to be more selective now that there isn’t such a demand for personnel.
There is little doubt that most of the men and women serving in the military have performed their duties with great skill and pride and will continue to do so. Nevertheless, the lowered standards in the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are blamed for many of the Army’s ills of the past decade, including the high prevalence of those with pre-existing mental health issues. The new standards are designed to reduce the ranks to the best of the best – just as it was meant to be.
As for those who would like to serve their country in the military, the Army encourages potential soldiers to “score as high as possible on the ASVAB, the basic assessment for the military, be in the best shape possible, and be flexible about job assignment to boost chances of acceptance.”