Pentagon chief may ease military enlistment standards

Published 10:25 am Monday, March 30, 2015

ABINGTON, Pa. — Defense Secretary Ash Carter is considering easing some military enlistment standards as a way of attracting and retaining service members and civilians needed by the Defense Department.

While there are few details yet, Carter is exploring whether to adjust some of the requirements for certain military jobs, such as those involving cyber or high-tech expertise.

The idea, which is largely in line with many civilian sectors, upends the military’s more rigid mindset that puts a high value on standards. And it reignites a persistent debate about how the services approve waivers for recruits who have committed lesser crimes, behaved badly, are older than current regulations allow or have other physical issues that prevent them from joining the military.

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According to Pentagon documents and officials, the secretary sees recruitment and retention as major challenges to a military coming out of two wars and facing turmoil around the world.

Specifically, the Pentagon pointed to cyber jobs as an area where standards — such as age or minor drug offenses — could be relaxed. Military leaders have long complained that it is difficult to attract and keep cyber professionals in the services because they can make far more money in private industry.

This is not the first time, however, that the services have looked to reduced restrictions as a way to entice more recruits.

During 2006-2007, the military steadily increased the number of bad behavior waivers as the services — particularly the Army and Marine Corps — struggled to meet deployment demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. The services let in more recruits with criminal records, including some with felony convictions, in order to meet recruiting quotas.

And in some cases, the services relaxed age restrictions, allowing older people to enlist or rejoin the military.