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.