ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy has turned down two 19-year-old men who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges after a Pennsylvania judge offered to drop probation from their sentence to help them enlist.

Chris Jabco and Eric Smith faced probation, community service and restitution in connection with the shooting of a cow considered a family pet by its owners.

Jabco and Smith, of Bellefonte, Pa., were among four men who got drunk, drove around in their pickup truck and ended up shooting the cow, said the attorney for the two, Jim Bryant.

“They just blew away a cow,” said Bryant, a former Marine. “Oops. It’s collateral damage.”

During sentencing, Bryant said that they wanted to join the Navy, said Centre County Court Judge Bradley P. Lunsford.

Lunsford said he offered to help the men do so because he saw some redeeming qualities in the pair that showed they might make good servicemembers.

“What impressed me the most is these are the two who came forward, did the right thing and admitted to the crime and implicated the others who were involved, cooperated fully with the commonwealth, and I thought that spoke a lot about them, and it was a good first step toward their rehabilitation,” he said Monday.

But when Jabco and Smith tried to enlist, they were told they were ineligible, said Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Hudson, a spokesman for the Navy Recruiting District Pittsburgh.

“According to Commander Navy Recruiting Command Instruction 1130.8G Chapter 2 Section 02-02-08, no individual may enlist in the military service as a deferment of civil punishment,” Hudson said in a Tuesday e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Bryant said he could not blame the Navy for turning his clients down.

“Nobody tells the Navy what to do,” Bryant said in a Tuesday phone interview.

Still, Bryant said, attorneys may ask prosecutors to drop minor-offense charges in exchange for their clients enlisting in the military. The practice was common 20 years ago, but the military has clamped down some since then, he said.

Hudson said that Navy regulations would not allow such an arrangement because they call for “mandatory rejection for any applicant who has had charges dismissed … For the purpose of enlisting or affiliating.”

Bryant said the military would be a “Godsend” for his clients, who will now have to work on a dairy farm as part of their sentence.

“Other than this, they’re not stupid,” he said. “They are excellent military material.”

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