COLUMBIA, S.C. — For the past month, Sgt. 1st Class Randy Bailey and his colleagues at the Army's Pontiac, S.C., Recruiting Station have been making life easier for the rest of the Army.
That's because on Jan. 2, recruiters like Sergeant Bailey started running local police checks on all recruits before sending them to basic training. The new rules, adopted across the Army's recruiting command, are designed to catch the growing number of enlistees who hide arrests or legal problems.
Although Bailey and his counterparts around the country run worldwide background checks on all new recruits, the results of those in-depth investigations sometimes take weeks to come back. In the meantime, "fraudulent" recruits have often arrived at induction centers or basic training sites, only to be removed once records of their legal difficulties catch up with them.
The military typically bars felons and others with extensive legal problems from entering the service. The new move will prevent the costly and disruptive removal of trainees who lied.
"The Army will not be lenient," says Bailey, a 10-year Army veteran. "It's being proactive instead of reactive," he said.
Under the old rules, recruiters were required to ask all applicants if they had ever been arrested or sent to jail. And although some recruiters would call local authorities on their own, many simply relied on the word of the applicant before sending enlistees into the pipeline, Bailey says.
Now, they call the police right away.
According to figures provided by the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the number of trainees who lied to recruiters about having an arrest record soared from 142 in 1995 to 239 in 1997. The Army also voided the contracts of 1,028 enlistees last year who had concealed past crimes or arrests but were caught before actually entering the Army.
The nearly 1,300 recruits who were caught constitute an enormous waste of energy for recruiters, who often conduct dozens of interviews to produce a single new soldier.
The new rules will make it easier on training bases but harder on the service's recruiters, who in recent years have had to fill monthly quotas despite declining interest in the military and record low unemployment. But even with the recent glitches, recruiting officials say the Army is nothing like the haven for criminals and drug addicts it was during the years after Vietnam.
"The majority of kids coming into the Army are honest and want to come in," says Frank Shaffery, chief of plans and policies at US Army Recruiting Command.
The new rules will impose a penalty on those who lie to recruiters. Any recruit caught concealing an arrest of any kind will have to wait six months to reenlist. Additionally, the Army has added a review process whereby commissioned officers must rule on cases where recruits had been arrested repeatedly but never convicted of crimes.