The Army study late last year concluded that taking a chance on a well-screened applicant with a criminal, bad driving or drug record usually pays off. And both the Army and the Marines have been bringing in more recruits with blemished records. Still, senior leaders have called for additional studies, to help determine the impact of the waivers on the Army.
"We believe that so far the return outweighs the risk," said Army Col. Kent M. Miller, who headed the team that conducted the study.
The information has not been released to the public, but the AP obtained a copy of the study.
The statistics show that recruits with criminal records or other drug and alcohol issues have more discipline problems than those without records. Those recruits also are a bit more likely to drop out of the Army because of alcohol.
On the brighter side, those with waivers earn more medals for valor and tend to stay in the Army longer.
In a key finding, the study said that nearly one in five - or 19.5 percent - of the soldiers who needed waivers to join the Army failed to complete the initial term of enlistment, which could be from two to six years. That percentage is just a bit higher than the 17 percent washout rate for those who didn't need a waiver to get in.
About 1 percent of those with waivers appeared before courts-martial, compared with about 0.7 percent of those without waivers.
Overall, soldiers with waivers appear more committed to their service once they get in. Statistics show they tend to stay in the Army longer and re-enlist at higher rates. Also, infantry soldiers with waivers were promoted to sergeant in an average of about 35 months, compared with 39 months for those without waivers.
The Army study compared the performance of soldiers who came in with conduct waivers against those who did not during the years 2003-2006.
In that time, 276,231 recruits enlisted in the Army with no prior military service. Of those 6.5 percent, or nearly 18,000 had waivers.
In a comparison of both groups the study found that soldiers who had received waivers for bad behavior:
- Had a higher desertion rate (4.26 percent vs. 3.59 percent).
- Had a higher misconduct rate (5.95 percent vs. 3.55 percent).
- Had a higher rate of appearances before courts-martial (1 percent vs. 0.71 percent).
- Had a higher dropout rate for alcohol rehabilitation failure (0.27 percent vs. 0.12 percent).
- Were more likely to re-enlist (28.48 percent vs. 26.76 percent).
- Got promoted faster to sergeant (after 34.7 months vs. 39 months).
- Had a lower rate of dismissal for personality disorders (0.93 percent vs. 1.12 percent).
- Had a lower rate of dismissal for unsatisfactory performance (0.26 percent vs. 0.48 percent).
The Army and the Marine Corps are under pressure to attract recruits as they struggle to increase their size in order to meet the combat needs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.