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August 17, 2006

This would be infuriating if it weren't such a sad, sorry story. The only way to keep the Army's ranks filled up, as David Wood of The Sun reports, is to let in young men and women who would only recently have been considered undesirable, if not actually ineligible. The number of soldiers who scored in the lowest category of the Armed Forces Qualification Test has increased more than sixfold since 2004. But even that may not suffice.

A report just issued by the Government Accountability Office finds that cases of wrongdoing by military recruiters jumped by more than half between 2004 and 2005 - and there is a strong possibility that significantly more cases have gone unreported.

Recruiters coerced potential enlistees (sometimes through sexual harassment), concealed medical information, concealed police records, made false promises and falsified documents. Some of these actions were crimes.

The military says it must compete with a fairly robust job market. But there's a bigger issue - an endless war that seems to have less and less point as it drags on.

The typical recruiter is a sergeant. Most, according to the GAO, believe their military careers will be wrecked if they don't meet their monthly quotas. A fascinating chart that graphs "recruiter irregularities" in Chicago shows spikes at the end of each 30-day recruiting cycle. Since last October, the spikes have grown progressively larger with nearly every passing month.

Plenty of good people are still going into the military - but not enough. So the Pentagon is changing some rules and bending others and generally looking the other way. The GAO says it should pay more systematic attention to the recruitment problem. No army should want marginal soldiers, and particularly not an army bogged down in a vicious counterinsurgency in a strange land, where it continually risks making more enemies - through poor judgment and casual brutality - than it can kill.

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