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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 27, 2006

Recruiting school dropouts

By Tom Philpott

A wartime Army struggling to attract enough quality volunteers is enlisting additional thousands of high school dropouts using an experimental screening tool to identify those most likely to complete their enlistments.

The Two Tier Attrition Screen (TTAS) is an added "quality indicator" that officials hope will allow the Army to take in many more high school dropouts with greater confidence that they won't drive up attrition rates.

Years of statistics indicate that high school dropouts are more prone to be discipline problems in the service and to be discharged early. The first-term attrition rate for non-graduates typically is 50 percent, almost double that of high school diploma graduates.

In fiscal 2006, which ended Sept. 30, the Army brought in 5,900 non-high school graduates as TTAS (pronounced T-TAS) recruits.

The Army announced last month that 81 percent of its recruits for 2006 with no prior service were high school graduates below the 90 percent Department of Defense standard for every service. But if TTAS recruits are factored in, the proportion of high school graduates recruited was 74.3 percent.

In March, Department of Defense officials gave the Army permission to sign up to 8,000 TTAS recruits a year to ease increasingly difficult recruiting challenges.

Two Army generals disagreed on recruit quality at a symposium Nov. 16.

Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel, said, "I hope everyone is as pleased as I am with the U.S. Army's recruiting success for 2006. A very, very successful year."

He noted that the active Army exceeded its goal on numbers of recruits, but failed to mention that the Army Reserve and National Guard fell 1,000 and 1,600 recruits short of their respective goals.

Rochelle said, "I'm here to tell you it's a magnificent force ... by every measure of quality ... certainly patriotism, and even education and aptitude, morals."

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey also showered praise on current forces, particularly the caliber of non-commissioned officers. But he said it's long past time for the Bush administration to level with Americans about both the effects of Iraq and Afghanistan on the Army and about the urgent need to expand U.S. ground forces to fight terrorism.

"This is a problem of resources and political will," McCaffrey told 300 attendees at the professional symposium sponsored by the Military Officers Association of America.

"Generally speaking," he said, "we've quadrupled the number of lowest mental category (recruits) ... we've quadrupled the number of non-high school graduates ... we're putting six, seven, eight thousand moral criminal waivers into the armed forces." As recruit quality falls, he said, battalion and squadron leaders are facing more readiness challenges.