The Army is meeting its recruiting goals partly by accepting more enlistees who lack high school diplomas, who have low scores on the military's aptitude test or receive waivers for criminal and medical problems.
Army documents obtained by NPR link the lowered standards to a drop since November 2001 in the number of men interested in joining up.
"They are trying to grow the Army during wartime, during an unpopular war, so some of the best recruits are deciding not to come into the Army," NPR's Tom Bowman tells Steve Inskeep.
Back in the early 1990s almost 100 percent of Army enlistees had a high school diploma. But the Army documents show the percentage has dropped to 79 percent in recent years.
"That's a real problem because a high school diploma, recruiters see that as an indicator of success … of completing training and actually becoming a better soldier," Bowman says. "That's something they've watched for years and they're really concerned about it."
The documents also show that waivers for serious misdemeanors increased from 3,002 in 2005 to 8,259 in 2007. The most serious criminal misconduct charges include burglary, narcotics/drug charges, aggravated assault, larceny, and breaking and entering.
The number of medical waivers granted also increased, climbing from 4,348 in 2005 to 5,985 in 2007. The medical conditions that most often resulted in waivers were high blood pressure and eye refraction.
An Army analysis of this "waiver pool," shows that these soldiers tended to have better performance in basic training, re-enlist at a higher rate, are promoted to the rank of sergeant more quickly and receive more medals for valor than those without waivers.
But the analysis also shows that waiver recruits are more likely than non-waiver recruits to be drummed out of the Army due to misconduct, desertion and failure to complete alcohol rehabilitation.
"It's sort of a double-edged sword, and clearly the Army is going to have to sort of calibrate how they bring these waiver folks in to make sure that they get those who are successful … as opposed to those who become deserters," Bowman says.