U.S. Army soldiers in May 2011, wearing the ACU in the Universal Camouflage Pattern, along with its replacement Multicam pattern (second from left) in Paktika province, Afghanistan. (Photo: Spc. Zachary Burke)
The military has embraced openly-gay members within its ranks, and now squabbles over combat roles for women and whether to accept transgender troops, but the future may require the Pentagon to accept whomever it can get.
At the height of the Iraq War, it seemed like the standard for service was so low, even convicted felons could get into the Army and Marine Corps. But today, more than two-thirds of America's young people wouldn't qualify for military service because of physical, behavioral, or educational problems.
The services have long required at least a high-school education as a prerequisite for joining. The Army used to offer GED assistance for recruits who wanted to join. These days, having a felony conviction is out of the question, but so are some tattoos, gauged earlobes, and taking hyperactivity medication. The Pentagon says 71 percent of America's 34 million 17-24 year old population would fail to qualify for enlistment.
Of those eligible for service, the Army estimates only one percent even have an interest.
The U.S. Army's major enlistment requirements include:
- Ages between 17 and 34 years old
- Must be U.S. citizen or legal foreign national
- Must have high school diploma or equivalent
- Minimum 33 score on Armed Forces Qualification Test
- No tattoos on fingers, neck or face
- No ear gauges
- No ADHD medication win the past 12 months
- No felony convictions
- No persistent illegal drug use
- No insulin-dependent diabetes
- Meet height & weight requirements
The biggest single reason for failing to meet the requirements is obesity. Maj, Gen. Allen Batschelet, commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, says obesity is becoming a national security issue.
"The obesity issue is the most troubling because the trend is going in the wrong direction," he said. "We think by 2020 it could be as high as 50%, which mean only 2 in 10 would qualify to join the Army." He paused. "It's a sad testament to who we are as a society right now."
Lt. Gen. Mark Phillip Hertling, the Commanding General of US Army Europe and Seventh Army, discuseed the issues he faced while overseeing the Army's initial training, and the economics involved with keeping soldiers fit to fight, in this TED talk:
This isn't recent news, however. In 2009, a similar study was conducted which had similar results. It was so disturbing back in 2009, it led 550 retired admirals, generals, and other retired senior military leaders to form Mission:Readiness, a nonprofit advocacy group to urge lawmakers to expand high-quality early childhood education programs, increased access to healthier food at school, and improved quality and quantity of Physical Education.