The number of U.S. soldiers forced out of the Army because of crimes or misconduct has soared in the past several years as the military emerges from a decade of war that put a greater focus on battle competence than on character.
Data obtained by The Associated Press shows that the number of officers who left the Army due to misconductmore than tripled in the past three years. The number of enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct shot up from about 5,600 in 2007, as the Iraq war peaked, to more than 11,000 last year.
The data reveals stark differences between the military services and underscores the strains that long, repeated deployments to the front lines have had on the Army's soldiers and their leaders.
It also reflects the Army's rapid growth in the middle part of the decade, and the decisions to relax standards a bit to bring in and retain tens of thousands of soldiers to fill the ranks as the Pentagon added troops in Iraq and continued the fight in Afghanistan.
The Army grew to a peak of about 570,000 soldiers during the height of the wars, and soldiers represented the bulk of the troops on the battlefields compared with the other services.
"I wouldn't say lack of character was tolerated in (war) theater, but the fact of the last 10 or 12 years of repeated deployments, of the high op-tempo — we might have lost focus on this issue," Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's top officer, told the AP last week. "Sometimes in the past we've overlooked character issues because of competence and commitment."
His comments mirror concerns aired by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, several times in recent months. The ethical lapses, Dempsey said, can be attributed in some ways to 10 years at war when the military failed to properly balance character and competence.
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