The Army last month stopped accepting felons and recent drug abusers into its ranks as the nation's economic downturn helped its recruiting, allowing it to reverse a decline in recruiting standards that had alarmed some officers.
While shunning those with criminal backgrounds, the Army is also attracting better-educated recruits. It is on track this year to meet, for the first time since 2004, the Pentagon's goal of ensuring that 90 percent of recruits have high school diplomas.
The developments mark a welcome turnaround for the Army, which has the military's biggest annual recruiting quota and had in recent years issued more waivers for recruits with criminal records. That, coupled with unprecedented strains from repeated deployments, led some senior officers to voice concerns that wartime pressures threatened to break the all-volunteer force.
Now, though, rising unemployment, security gains in Iraq and other factors have helped make military service more attractive and have allowed recruiters to be more choosy, according to military officials and Pentagon data.
Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is on the frontlines of the Army's struggle to stop its soldiers from killing themselves. Through a series of novel experiments, the 32-year military veteran has turned his sprawling base here into a suicide-prevention laboratory.
One reason: Fort Carson has seen nine suicides in the past 15 months. Another: Six years ago, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet at the University of Kentucky killed himself in the apartment he shared with his brother and sister. He was Kevin Graham, Gen. Graham's youngest son.
After Kevin's suicide in 2003, Gen. Graham says he showed few outward signs of mourning and refused all invitations to speak about the death. It was a familiar response within a military still uncomfortable discussing suicide and its repercussions. It wasn't until another tragedy struck the family that Gen. Graham decided to tackle the issue head on.
"I will blame myself for the rest of my life for not doing more to help my son," Gen. Graham says quietly, sitting in his living room at Fort Carson, an array of family photographs on a table in front of him. "It never goes away."
"The military rabbinate brought many magazines and articles with a very clear message: 'We are the Jewish people, a miracle brought us to the land of Israel, God returned us to the land, and now we have to struggle so as to get rid of the gentiles who disturb us from conquering the holy land.' All the feeling throughout all this operation of many of the soldiers was of a war of religions," he said. "As a commander, I tried to explain that the war is not a war of Kiddush Hashem [the sanctification of God's name, including through martyrdom] but over the stopping of the launching of the Qassam rockets."This post is not about Israel, so let's not go down that road again (although the gang did an admirable job in keeping the comments more or less sober in this post). I want to use this post as a "jumping off" point to discuss the role chaplains should or should not play in the military. Anyone who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan knows soldiers or officers -- almost always evangelical Protestants -- who thought they were there on a holy mission. Others -- even those otherwise religious, such as myself -- chose to put a big fat line in between what we were doing as soldiers in the service of our nation and that which we were called to do as believers serving God. Honest to goodness, the biggest crisis of faith I have ever had was in part precipitated by a chaplain telling me that I was in Afghanistan on a mission from God and that I had just killed a man because God wanted me to do so. At the time, I wanted to quit the Army and Christianity both. And I had a dim view of chaplains for a long time afterward.
Shinseki, as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supported the war plan. The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks, and his planning staff presented their approach to the Joint Chiefs and their staffs during the development of the plan. There was ample opportunity for the chiefs to express concerns and propose alternatives. There is no record of Shinseki having objected.
Shinseki also met with the commander in chief himself to discuss the plan. On at least one occasion at the White House, President Bush asked each member of the Joint Chiefs, including Shinseki, whether he believed the Iraq war plan was adequate to the objectives. Each said it was.
On the one hand, there is a lot of truth in this op-ed. I am sure Gen. Shinseki would agree that he did not protest the Iraq War plans as vigorously as his admirers on the Left imagine him to have protested. On the other hand, the author of this op-ed -- the loyal mouthpiece for a man most can agree was a horrible failure as Secretary of Defense (the second time around, it should be noted) -- cannot be trusted to provide a reliable narrative of Gen. Shinseki's retirement (announced early by Sec. Rumsfeld, which effectively made Shinseki a lame duck). He is also not likely to endorse the idea that Sec. Rumsfeld's Pentagon was a working environment in which all protests from the uniformed officer corps were squashed and within which dissent was not tolerated.
I might bite my tongue if the author of this op-ed was currently working in a PRT in Afghanistan and not in a cushy job at Bank of America. And, I'll admit, that's probably unfair of me.