WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. Army recruited more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year, helping the service beat its goal of 80,000 recruits in the throes of an unpopular war and mounting casualties.
The recruiting mark comes a year after the Army missed its recruitment target by the widest margin since 1979, which had triggered a boost in the number of recruiters, increased bonuses, and changes in standards.
The Army recruited 80,635 soldiers, roughly 7,000 more than last year. Of those, about 70,000 were first-time recruits who had never served before.
According to statistics obtained by The Associated Press, 3.8 percent of the first-time recruits scored below certain aptitude levels. In previous years, the Army had allowed only 2 percent of its recruits to have low aptitude scores. That limit was increased last year to 4 percent, the maximum allowed by the Defense Department.
The Army said all the recruits with low scores had received high school diplomas. In a written statement, the Army said good test scores do not necessarily equate to quality soldiers. Test-taking ability, the Army said, does not measure loyalty, duty, honor, integrity or courage.
Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a private research group, said there is a ``fine balance between the need for a certain number of recruits and the standards you set.''
``Tests don't tell you the answer to the most critical question for the Army, how will you do in combat?'' Goure said. But, he added, accepting too many recruits with low test scores could increase training costs and leave technical jobs unfilled.
``The absolute key for the Army is a high-school diploma,'' Goure said.
About 17 percent of the first-time recruits, or about 13,600, were accepted under waivers for various medical, moral or criminal problems, including misdemeanor arrests or drunk driving. That is a slight increase from last year, the Army said.
Of those accepted under waivers, more than half were for ``moral'' reasons, mostly misdemeanor arrests. Thirty-eight percent were for medical reasons and 7 percent were drug and alcohol problems, including those who may have failed a drug test or acknowledged they had used drugs.
The Army said the waiver process recognizes that people can overcome past mistakes and become law abiding citizens.
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo said that adding more recruiters enabled the Army to identify more recruits. ``We got the right people in the field in the right places in the right numbers,'' said Cucolo, the chief spokesman for the Army.
About two-thirds of the recruits qualified for a bonus _ an average of $11,000 each. Some in highly valued specialties, such as special operations forces, can get up to $40,000 in extra cash.
The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve both fell slightly short of their recruiting goals. The Reserves recruited 25,378 of the targeted 25,500; and the Guard recruited 69,042 of the targeted 70,000.