ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

The U.S. Army has a little something to be grateful for this holiday season. It met its recruiting goals for the fiscal year 2007. This gift, however, came with a hefty price tag. The Army has been offering recruits bonuses of up to $20,000 and even help in buying a house. Still, it's accepting applicants who wouldn't have made the cut in the past.

NPR's Tom Bowman covers the military. Hello, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Hello. Good to be with you.

SEABROOK: Okay, so the Army met its goals. What did it have to do to get there?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, as you say, it brought in more people without high school diplomas, more who scored lower on the aptitude test, and finally, more who had to get waivers for criminal offenses. So many defense analysts argue that you're lowering the standards. The Army rejects that, but clearly, there's a real concern that you're bringing in more people, let's say, who've had problems with the law.

SEABROOK: Do you know anything about what kinds of crimes they can get waivers for and what crimes they can't?

BOWMAN: Well, it could minor drug offenses. It could be, let's say, joyriding in the car, it could be some kinds of assault, you know, minor thefts and things of that nature where they would have to get a waiver from, let's say, a lieutenant colonel in order to get into the military.

SEABROOK: What is the Delayed Entry Program? They also dipped into this to meet their goals.

BOWMAN: They did. They dipped into this a great deal. And the Delayed Entry Program is a pool of recruits. Think of it as a bank. There were bunch of recruits in this bank that aren't having shipped yet to basic training. And what the Army does is draw on them over the year, especially those times when it's hard to recruit - November, December, January, February. Those months tend to be really hard to get people because they're either in school or working. So what they do is they draw on this Delayed Entry Program to make their monthly goals.

SEABROOK: So while they made their goals for 2007, have they set themselves up for it to be much harder or even fail in 2008?

BOWMAN: Absolutely much harder in 2008, and they'll acknowledge that. So what are they going to have to do? Again, maybe have a more people with waivers for crimes, more people without high school diplomas. And the other thing is what we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan is it takes so many soldiers to man those missions. The Army has decided to increase its size. So not only are you having a hard time recruiting in wartime, you actually have to recruit even more to make the Army bigger.

SEABROOK: Something else is interesting is I understand the Army is facing kind of an exodus of captains or what we might call in the private sector middle managers. What's happening there?

BOWMAN: Well, what's happening is Iraq in mostly where you have longer deployments. They have increased it from 12 months boots on the ground, they would say, to 15 months. And captains are sort of at the (unintelligible) and army career. They're deciding whether they want to stay in and make it a 20-year career or they want to get out. Now these are generally men and women in their late 20s, very marketable, particularly West Point graduates. A lot of them are saying, hey, listen, I've done my time. I've done two or three tours in Iraq, I'm done. And of course, what the Army is trying to do is what they're trying to do with recruits - give them more money, bonuses of up to $35,000, offers of graduate school and choice assignments to try to keep them in.

SEABROOK: When you talk to people in the Army, especially the career people at the top of their careers, what do they say it means to change the makeup of the Army this way to lower your threshold for recruits, to boost people up to captain level before you might have before. Are they worried?

BOWMAN: Yes, some of them are very worried about it. It's a fraying of the Army, and people talk about the Army breaking. They don't think the Army will actually break, but lower-quality recruits come in. These will be the corporals and sergeants of tomorrow. How are they going to be with younger soldiers? Are they going to be good role models? Are they going to be a problem?

SEABROOK: NPR's Tom Bowman. Thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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