The Army, to put it mildly, is feeling the pinch. With unemployment levels dropping, the nation’s largest of the armed forces is finding it increasingly more difficult to meet recruitment quotas. As a result, the Army is now accepting far less qualified recruits.

After initiatives by the Obama Administration to downsize the military, the new trend under the Trump White House is to build the services back up. The Army’s goal is to enlist 80,000 new soldiers. And they want to do it without sacrificing quality people.

To do so, according to MG Jeffrey Snow, who heads the Army’s recruiting command, the Army is offering more money in bonuses, and relaxing the waivers for marijuana use as well as allowing in recruits who are only marginally qualified. Snow says they have to compete with a civilian work environment where jobs are being created.

 “It’s in an environment where unemployment is 4.5%,” Snow said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Bonuses don’t come cheap. Last year, the Army spent $424 million on them for recruits. That’s up from $284 million in the fiscal year 2016 and dwarfs the $8.2 million paid out in 2014.

Granting more waivers to recruits who admitted to smoking marijuana — drug use is prohibited in the military — reflects its legal status in several states, Snow said. Prospective soldiers must vow not to use again.

Previously, a two-star officer like Snow had to grant the waiver. Now, he said, that authority has been delegated to the level of a lieutenant colonel. The change was made for the fiscal year 2017 when 506 waivers were granted. In 2016, there were 191 waivers.

With Fitness Lacking, the US Army Looks to Change its Culture

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While the Army has made it clear that it doesn’t want to sacrifice quality, Snow admitted in a meeting with Phoenix recruiters a year ago that only about 3 in 10 of recruits meet the requirements to join the military.

In FY 2017 the active-duty Army’s recruited nearly 69,000 soldiers, and 1.9% belonged to Category Four. That’s up from .6% in 2016. The Rand Corporation has found in its studies that the smarter the soldiers are, the more effective they are as fighters.

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Photo courtesy US Army