With Troop Surge, Pressure on Standards

QUANTICO, Jan. 27, 2007 — -- As the Army and Marine Corps prepare to answer President Bush's call to expand their ranks by 92,000 troops, history shows the services will struggle to avoid lowering their standards for new recruits, critics say.

"There is no question that standards will suffer if they have to, in order to meet the specific year goals," said Eli Flyer, former senior manpower analyst at the Department of Defense.

Watch John Hendren's report on military recruiting standards Saturday on "World News." Check local listings for times.

The services have met their goals since missing them in 2005, but Flyer and other critics said they've done so by accepting in greater numbers troops who otherwise would not have been allowed to enlist. The Army has accepted more who score in the lowest acceptable category on intelligence tests. The age limit for new recruits has risen from 35 to 42 in recent years.

Yet Pentagon officials say they can meet the new recruiting numbers without dropping standards.

Bill Carr, deputy under secretary of defense for military personnel policy, said, for instance, that while the Army has accepted more low test scorers -- the number rose from 2 percent to 4 percent in recent years -- the rate still meets the Pentagon's overall minimum standard of 4 percent.

Carr noted that the Army was already well on the way to increase its ranks by 30,000 on a temporary basis, so the additional increase amounts to 62,000 on top of that by 2012.

"Recruiting is hard, but hard is what we do," Carr said. "It's certainly within our reach."

Recruits Do Their Research

Marine recruiters who gathered on a recent day to speak to would-be local recruits in Quantico, Va., said they intend to cope by appealing to a sense of duty, an appeal that worked for Paul Rukenbrod, a college graduate who said he was impressed with the retired Marines who worked in his Northern Virginia technology firm. Recruiters did not have to persuade him, he said.

"I got most of the info on my own, and I was pretty much ready to sign up when I walked in," said Rukenbrod, age 24.

Recruiters acknowledge that their job is harder in war time, but say they're not soft-pedaling the chances of going from boot camp to Baghdad, or elsewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"They see it on TV every day, and they know it's a chance," said staff Sgt. Douglas Haynesworth, a Marine recruiter.

Lauren Daugherty, a college graduate and conservative political activist, said she was aware of the prospect of heading into combat shortly after boot camp. She has tried to join the Marines' officer training program twice before but was disqualified because of injuries. Now she is trying to join a third time as an enlistee.

"I'm happy to go," Daugherty said. "That's why I signed up."

Even those who are willing are nervous, like Randi Ghia. Ghia said she was "scared to get hurt, yes, or worse, killed, but I'll go."

The concern affects the potential recruits' parents, as well.

Doug Parker stood with his son Michael, who admitted he had already joined before telling his mother.

"We really don't want our kids going over there and getting injured, hurt or even killed," said the elder Parker, a retired Marine who had encouraged his son to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., instead. "But we want them to make their own decisions."

The question, critics say, is whether there will be enough high-quality recruits to fill the expanding ranks. Flyer points to what he sees as a troubling development: Army officials have given more waivers for troops with medical conditions that might otherwise disqualify them, and more waivers for troops with criminal records.

Stephen Green, who now stands accused of rape and multiple murders last year in the Iraqi town of Mahmudiya, had criminal convictions that might otherwise have made him ineligible.

"The increases here," Flyer said, "will have the effect of giving more turnover within the Army, more behavioral problems, more psychiatric problems."