Saturday, February 17, 2007


Well, I'm back in the good old USA. Couple interesting things happened while I was away that will just have to wait a bit because I'm not in the mood to flesh out the thoughts. That pretty much means those thoughts are doomed to whither and die on the vine. It's not a fun life to be an inkling of a post topic in my mind. No fun at all.

Anyways, while I was out two stories about recruiting hit the good ol' internets. One of them is a rehash of a topic that had been covered by last year, and that I commented about here. While some of the numbers have changed, the facts behind them remain the same. With 80,000+ enlisting into the Army and the Army Reserve last year, even a 30% increase in Serious Criminal Misconduct waivers (680 in 2005, 901 in 2006), they still account for only 1.1% of all people who enlisted into the service last year.

As much as I hate to rehash stuff I wrote somewhere else, I've got to throw in a couple of observations about this story. First off I think that the writer, Lolita Baldor, was terribly misleading when she (I'm assuming that "Lolita is a female name) simply states that the numbers were released by the "Michael D. Palm Center, a think tank that studies military issues". The Michael D. Palm Center is a "think tank" on UC-Santa Barbara that studies Don't Ask Don't Tell. They're not a "think tank". It's an advocacy group with a specific agenda. Aaron Belkin, who is the director of the center, isn't just the director, but a very vocal opponent of the military's policy on homosexuals, and he's used the study commissioned by the center he directs to support his opposition to DADT by saying it's wrong for the military to discharge people for breaking military law, while allowing people to enlist who broke civilian law, but paid their debt to society. This is a story with an agenda, and Ms. Baldor doesn't make it possible for the reader to determine that based on her reporting.

However, even though there is an agenda behind the story, there is still a story to talk about and the story gets some pretty simple stuff wrong. First off Ms. Baldor writes
And they said about two-thirds of the waivers granted by the Marines are for drug use, because they — unlike the other services — require a waiver if someone has been convicted once for marijuana use.
Maybe Darth Commando can square me away on this, but, unless I missed a USAREC message, the Army requires a waiver for a marijuana possession charge as well. I might be wrong, but I'm willing to bet that what Ms. Baldor meant to write was that the USMC is the only service that requires a waiver for someone who admits to using marijuana at least once. Not someone who was convicted of the crime. Maybe it's a minor point, but it's one she got wrong.

Since I haven't read the entire study from the Palm Center, I'm going to have to make a guess at where Mr. Belkin gets this number.
The fact that the military has allowed more than 100,000 people with such troubled pasts to join its ranks over the past three years illustrates the problem we're having meeting our military needs in this time of war.
He's lumping together all waivers, medical and moral, from all services, into one big, scary number, and then implying that they are all people with "troubled pasts". As I'd mentioned over at NCO Brief, the vast majority of waivers are medical. Flat feet is a medical waiver. Mr. Belkin has alleged that someone with flat feet is a person with a troubled past, and that by allowing these 2x4 footed people into the uniform is a symptom of a military that is failing. He's wrong and the quote is deceptive. Ms. Baldor should probably have mentioned something about that.

A paragraph or three later a recycled canard is brought out. The good old "stupid people" comment.
(The Army is) accepting more people whose scores on a standardized aptitude test are at the lower end of the acceptable range.
I keep seeing this comment whenever the quality of the troops is mentioned, but it's never backed up or explained. The Army is allowed to have up to 2% of the enlistees for the year be CAT4s (the lowest allowable ASVAB test category). That number has not changed. However, if the Army is allowed to have 2% of enlistees be CAT4s, and 70,000 people are enlisted one year, and 80,000 are enlisted the next, of course there are going to be more CAT4s. But this is never explained in these stories. The percentage does not change.

And this brings me to another comment I have. It's something I see a lot in stories, but have never been able to get a decent answer for why it's done. Ms. Baldor is very specific with some numbers, but very general in others.
According to the Pentagon, nearly a quarter of new military recruits needed some type of waiver in 2006, up from 20 percent in 2003
About one in five Army recruits needed a waiver to enlist in 2006, up from 12.7 percent in 2003.
So, which is it? A quarter is 25%. What is "nearly a quarter"? 23%? 24.9%? Ms. Baldor is very specific when she gives the number for 2003 at 20%, but then gets vague when talking about 2006. Are we talking about a .1% difference of a 5% difference? That seems like a pretty big difference between those two. One in five is 20%, so is "about one in five" 19.9% or 15%? Again, she states 12.7% for 2003, and then gives an "about" to the current numbers. Why the generalness? Is it to make it seem more impressive like Mr. Belkin's 100,000 troubled pasts?

I'd spent some time earlier this month giving my ill-formed opinions about media perception. I think this ties in well with what I'd commented on earlier. Other than the think about USMC marijuana waivers, the story is not inaccurate. However, by failing to mention Mr. Belkin's work in a specific area of policy, the relation of the Center that funded the study in discussion, and mixing detailed accuracy with vagueness it conveys a message. I doubt there is any malice intended here, but it's not hard to take an opinion that the bias in the story is there for a reason. The military is making their recruiting mission again this year, and since there can't be stories about the military failing to make mission, then the story must be that the military is accomplishing the mission by lowering their standards. This same story came out last year. The only thing that's changed has been a new year of numbers.

The other story that caught my eye was brought to me courtesy of Army Lawyer. The story is that Radar Online (apparently a National Lampoon wannabe) tried to catch some recruiters doing wrong by calling them with people who are either obviously unqualified, or probably unqualified. There's nothing in the exchanges really worth discussing. I seriously doubt the recruiter on the other end of the line took any of the calls seriously after about the first four questions, but it goes to show something else I'd mentioned before. The vast, vast vast majority of recruiters do the right thing each and every time. Maybe this guy from Radar Online would have had more success if what he was saying wasn't painfully obvious.

Anyways, be travelling again tomorrow. Everyone enjoy the rest of the weekend and Happy President's Day.


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