Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Recruits Enlist Using Biometric Technology

When 20 recruits gathered yesterday at the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station to sign their enlistment contracts, none needed a pen. Instead, they read their contracts on a computer screen, then pressed their index fingers onto an electronic pad next to it, becoming the first servicemembers to enlist using biometric technology. Air Force Maj. Michael D. Thomas, deputy station commander, swore in the recruits on Fort Meade, Md. This marked a big step in the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command’s transition to paperless enlistment recordkeeping, said Ted Daniels chief of the command’s accessions division. Nineteen-year-old Krista Hearne of Salisbury, Md., became the first recruit to sign her enlistment contract biometrically before taking her oath of enlistment to join the Army. Eighteen-year-old Chance Muller of Sharpsburg, Md., followed, becoming the first male applicant to use biometrics, in his case, to join the Marine Corps. After swearing them into the military, Thomas used his own index fingerprint to biometrically sign their contracts. When the process was completed, the new servicemembers received print-outs of their enlistment contracts, which included a facial photo and the fingerprint.
U.S. Army recruit Krista N. Hearne, 19, of Salisbury, Md., poses with the electronic Army enlistment contract she signed with her fingerprint as she became the first person to enlist in the U.S. military using biometric signatures.
No other paper was required for a process that once required multiple signatures and took reams of paper. “The process starts off without paper and it ends up without paper,” said Daniels. “But we do print out one copy, for the individual.” Many of the enlisting troops had seen biometrics technology used on television and thought it “pretty neat” to learn that they were to be the first enlistees to use it, Daniels said. “We told them what we were doing was revolutionary, that this was the first time it was being down within the Department of Defense,” he said. “They came through here and said, ‘This is pretty neat, man.’” Biometrics is becoming increasingly widespread in society. Some supermarkets used them at the checkout counter. Even Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., takes biometric measurements from guests’ fingers to ensure the same person uses a ticket from day to day. Daniels said biometrics will offer MEPCOM broad advantages, improving security, reducing redundancy and dollar costs and saving the command an estimated 70 million sheets of paper a year. Last year alone, the command administered 510,000 enlistment Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery tests and 348,000 physical examinations to recruit 266,000 new soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.
Air Force Major Michael D. Thomas conducts an enlistment ceremony for U.S. Army recruit Krista N. Hearne, 19, at the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station. Hearne became the first person to enlist in the U.S. military using biometric signatures.
Now using biometric technology, MEPS officials will capture each applicant’s biometric print at first contact. That information will be used to verify the applicant’s identity and track progress throughout the qualification process: from aptitude testing to medical screening to background check to contract signing to shipping off for boot camp or basic training. Biometric information captured at enlistment will become part of the servicemembers’ permanent personnel records. Ultimately it will follow them throughout their military careers, providing concrete verification of their identity. Because biometrics are unique to every individual and can’t be forged, they add security protections just not possible with traditional “wet” signatures, Daniels explained. “What we want to do is make sure whoever is next to you in the foxhole is exactly who they are supposed to be,” he said. Meanwhile, biometrics is expected to provide faster, less redundant personnel processes, he said. As it becomes widespread throughout the department and services, it will help short-cut procedures required for everything from getting a common access card to signing up for Tricare benefits through the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. “There will be no need to start from scratch each time,” Daniels said.

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