Military Recruiting: The Kids Aren't All Right

  • Share
  • Read Later
Spencer Platt / Getty

Cadets in the graduating class of the United States Military Academy at West Point participate in commencement exercises in New York.

Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve
Mission: Readiness — Military Leaders for Kids
Nov. 5, 2009

The Gist:
With wars on two fronts and increasingly bellicose threats from North Korea and Iran, the Pentagon has continued to lower its recruiting standards to meet the ever-increasing demand for U.S. troops. Even so, the agency recently found that 75% of Americans ages 17 to 24 are ineligible to enlist — largely because of either a lack of education, a criminal record, poor fitness or all of the above. In the wake of the Pentagon's findings, nearly 100 retired and active-duty military commanders have launched "Mission: Readiness," a report on why America's youth needs to shape up if they want to ship out.

Highlight Reel:
1. Why quality still trumps quantity: "In order to take in fewer young people who have a criminal record, are overweight, or have no high school degree, the Army has been spending about $22,000 per recruit in enlistment bonuses ... Even with a high school degree, many potential recruits still fail the Armed Forces Qualification Test (the AFQT) and cannot join. The test is used by the military to determine math and reading skills. About 30 percent of potential recruits with a high school degree take the test and fail it. ... Even when recruits qualify, health problems can cause significant deployment and expense problems later; for example, 20 percent of the Army's reservists arrived at mobilization sites with dental conditions that made them non-deployable.

2. Other barriers to enlistment: "Many are disqualified from serving for asthma, eyesight or hearing problems, mental health issues, or recent treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ... Other young people are not eligible to join because they are too tall, too short, or have other non-medical reasons making them ineligible. For example, single parents with custody of a child cannot join."

3. Why better preschool education is the solution: "Brain scans and neuroscience have now shown conclusively that the best time to influence a child's trajectory in life is during the child's earliest years when the architecture of the brain is literally under construction. ... 'School readiness skills' are more than just learning the ABC's or knowing how to count. Young children also need to learn to share, wait their turn, follow directions, and build relationships. This is when children begin to develop a conscience — differentiating right from wrong — and when they start learning to stick with a task until it is completed."

The Lowdown:
Less than a month after the Pentagon celebrated meeting its annual recruiting goals for the first time since 1973, this report serves as a grim reality check. "During economic downturns, higher numbers of well-qualified candidates seek to enlist and the military can temporarily rely less on waivers for those with academic deficits or criminal records. But a weak economy is no formula for a strong military. Once the economy begins to grow again, the challenge of finding enough high-quality recruits will return."

The Verdict: Skim