Fewer Than One in Three Young Americans Can Join Military
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have ended, and Congress has ordered the military to reduce troop levels. But the United States Army -- and other military services -- must continue to recruit new soldiers, and it is having trouble finding enough people who are qualified.
The Army tells VOA "changes in society have decreased the number of young people who are eligible to join."
The U.S. Army plans to reduce its size from 508,000 soldiers to 450,000 by the year 2017. Most new soldiers leave the service after their firstenlistment period of three or four years has ended. So the Army must still recruit between 70,000 and 90,000 young Americans every year to reach its target troop level.
People who want to join the Army must be in good physical and mental condition. They must be between the ages of 17 and 34. They must have graduated from high school. They must not have used illegal drugs or have a criminal record. And they may have only small tattoos -- and none on their hands, face, neck or head.
?The Department of Defense says 71 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 would not be accepted into one of the nation's military services if they volunteered. The Army believes that number will increase to 80 percent by 2020, mostly because of the expected rise in obesity levels.
The Army says about 28 percent of people who apply are rejected because they are overweight or have behavior problems. Others are not permitted to join because they have a criminal record or a history of drug abuse. Some are rejected because they are unable to meet the military's academic requirements. One-quarter of the high school graduates who take the Army's math and reading test fail it.
Beth Asch is a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, a research group. She studies military recruiting activities. She is surprised by the number of people who cannot meet the military's standards.
"It does sound like, ‘Wow, that's pretty amazing isn't it?' There are a lot of people who simply don't qualify."
Major General Allen Batschelet is the commander of the U.S. Army's Recruiting Command. He spoke to the public radio program Here and Now in August about the Army's recruiting difficulties. He says the main problem is young Americans' poor physical fitness.
"The factors that we use to measure and evaluate people to join the Army increasingly they're not able to meet those requirements. It's very troubling, and the trends are not in the good direction -- especially in regards to fitness. Young people are showing up at our doors increasingly unfit or obese and it's, it's a real problem."
In the 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the National Institutes of Health found that one-third of all Americans can be considered obese. A group of retired senior military officers is warning that the country's high obesity rate threatens national security and the military's ability to win wars. D. Allen Youngman is a member of the group, which is called Mission: Readiness. He is a retired U.S. Army major general. He told VOA the problems of American society are affecting the country's military.
"...the same issues and the way they're impacting America's overall quality of life, competitiveness in a global economy and other things."
The retired senior officers are fighting larger social forces. For instance, schools do not always offer healthy food or require that students exercise. General Youngman says he knows changing people's behavior is a difficult fight.
"Human nature, you know, draws us toward sugar and fat and things like that. And if, and if we say it's all about choice well then we have to live with those consequences. But if we, if we can provide more intelligent choices then, you know, young people are gonna respond."
The U.S. Army reflects the nature of the country's youth. And many young Americans are simply too fat to fight. General Batschelet says he is worried the Army will soon be unable to reach its recruiting goals. He says the country's current social trends may be creating a serious national security problem.
I'm Christopher Cruise.