Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Recruiting Bowe Bergdahl He Seemed an Ideal Recruit; What Happened in Afghanistan? Asks Slate's Joshua Keating

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Recruiting Bowe Bergdahl He Seemed an Ideal Recruit; What Happened in Afghanistan? Asks Slate's Joshua Keating

Article excerpt

It shouldn't be surprising that many U.S. service members are not overjoyed by Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release from captivity.

Sgt. Bergdahl slipped away from his platoon in 2009 after becoming disillusioned with the U.S. war effort, and accusations against him have ranged from desertion to treason. After what he's been through, it seems unlikely he will face charges for his actions, but any soldier who prompts a dangerous manhunt and the exchange of high-value Taliban prisoners after abandoning his unit isn't going to be the most popular guy in the ranks.

But should he have been in the ranks in the first place?

The case of Chelsea (then-Bradley) Manning, another soldier who caused the military a major headache after becoming disillusioned by the U.S. war effort, prompted much discussion about the military's lowered recruitment and retention standards. It's fairly obvious now that someone with Ms. Manning's clear record of mental instability should never have been sent to Iraq, much less placed in charge of handling sensitive information.

In the years prior to Sgt. Bergdahl's enlistment in 2008, the Army continually lowered its recruitment standards to meet the needs of two simultaneous wars. This often meant allowing in more recruits who scored lower on aptitude tests, weren't physically fit or had criminal records.

The number of "high-quality" recruits - with high school diplomas and scores in the upper 50th percentile of aptitude tests - fell from 56.2 percent in 2005 to 44.6 percent in 2007, the year before Sgt. Bergdahl enlisted. The cap on those scoring below the 30th percentile was raised. The percentage of recruits receiving "moral conduct" waivers increased to 11 percent. (With the war in Afghanistan winding down and planned cuts to ground forces, standards are now reportedly improving again.)

But there's little evidence that Sgt. Bergdahl needed any special help to get into the Army. …

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