Fingerprints: forward march!

Pentagon adopts biometric recruit enrollment

Today new recruits are enlisting with electronic fingerprints rather than signing a piece of paper, as part of the military's drive to eliminate paper signatures.

The first recruits used the technology last week at the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station. The recruits read the electronic contracts on a computer screen, then touched their index fingers to an electronic pad, uploading their prints and linking them to their contracts.

After swearing in the recruits, Air Force Maj. Michael Thomas, deputy station commander, used his own index fingerprint to biometrically sign their contracts. The new service members received printouts of their enlistment contracts, which included a facial photo and the fingerprint. No other paper was required.

Today only the Baltimore recruitment center is beta testing biometrically signed contracts. Once beta testing is completed, the military plans to expand the program to all 65 enrollment centers, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, press officer, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.

Signing up enlistees electronically is 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.

Biometrics will offer the agency many advantages, from improving security to reducing redundancy and costs, Daniels said. Last year the military recruited 266,000 new warriors. By switching to biometric technology, the agency estimates it will save 70 million sheets of paper a year, Daniels said.

The biometric fingerprints will not only be used as a digital signature but will also become part of the service members' permanent personnel records and will be used for identity verification. Additionally the technology will be used to track an applicant's progress throughout the qualification process, including aptitude testing, medical screening, background checks and basic training.

'What we want to do is make sure whoever is next to you in the foxhole is exactly who they are supposed to be,' Daniels said.

Daniels expects biometrics to accelerate and simplify many personnel procedures, including getting a Common Access Card and enrolling in the military's health insurance program.

The military has used biometric fingerprints to do background checks on service members for several years, running prints through the Federal Bureau of Investigation's fingerprint database, said Gaylan Johnson, spokesperson for the enrollment agency.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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