‘Sac Bee’ Series Probes Lowered Standards — and Criminality — Among U.S. Military Recruits

By: E&P Staff

The Sacramento Bee launched today a four-part series on the rise in “exceptions” that allow more of those with criminal or other troubling backgrounds to join the U.S. military — and the crimes some of them commit while in uniform. Other McClatchy papers are also running the series.

Part 1, by Russell Carollo, appears today. It includes a Q&A with the reporter and profiles of 16 soldiers, among other features. Here is how it opens. Check out Part 1 here.

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Before Army Sgt. 1st Class Randal Ruby was accused of beating prisoners and of conspiring to plant rifles on dead civilians in Iraq, he amassed a 10-year criminal record that included assaults on his wife in Colorado and Washington state and a drunken high-speed police chase in Maine for which he remains wanted.

Before Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes bayoneted an Iraqi private to death, he was hospitalized after threatening suicide in high school, accused of assault, disorderly conduct and trespassing, and, in the months leading up to deployment, was twice linked to drug use.

Before Army Spc. Shane Carl Gonyon was convicted of stealing a pistol at Abu Ghraib prison, he was twice convicted on felony charges and was arrested four times, once for allegedly giving a 13-year-old girl marijuana in exchange for oral sex. He enlisted weeks after his release from a federal prison in Oregon.

During a yearlong examination, The Sacramento Bee studied the civilian and military backgrounds of hundreds of troops, focusing on those who entered the services since the Iraq war began and those linked to in-service problems.

Though not a representative sample, the 250 military personnel analyzed most closely included 120 with questionable backgrounds, including felonies and serious drug, alcohol or mental health problems.

‘Moral conduct? waivers

Ruby, Holmes and Gonyon were among 70 with troubled pasts whom The Bee linked to incidents in Iraq.

“These guys are out there carrying weapons, fighting on the streets with drugs in their pockets,” said Tressie Cox, whose son, Lee Robert, had a history of drug and mental problems before he was charged with selling drugs in Iraq. “Shame on my son, but shame on all you people out there who are policing this and allowing this to continue to happen.”

Those identified by The Bee are among the hundreds of thousands of military personnel recruited or retained as the armed services ? entering the sixth year of the Iraq war ? lowered educational, age and moral standards and granted a growing number of waivers to applicants whose backgrounds would otherwise have barred them from serving.

The percentage of Army recruits receiving “moral conduct” waivers jumped from 4.6 percent in 2003 to 11.2 percent in 2007.

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