Calling it a "national security matter," the Pentagon says that 71% of Americans aged 17 to 24 would fail to qualify for military service owing to physical, behavioral, or educational shortcomings. Obesity is a big part of the problem, but it's hardly the whole story.
Obesity is the single biggest reason for being turned away. But other obstacles exist — some reasonable and some not — which are contributing to the excessively high rejection rate.
Many young men and women are deemed ineligible because they lack a high-school diploma, they have felony convictions, or they're on prescription-drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
"The quality of people willing to serve has been declining rapidly," noted Gen. Batschelet in a Wall Street Journal article.
But many others are being turned away for rather trivial cosmetic reasons, such as large-scale tattoos and ear gauges in earlobes. In the case of 19-year-old Brittany Crippen, she was rejected for having a tattoo of a fish on the back of her neck. Recruiters told her to come back when she had it removed — an expensive (and even personal) proposition for some.
The WSJ reports:
Obesity, the single biggest reason for disqualifying new recruits, and other obstacles, such as poor educational attainment, led 90 retired military leaders in 2009 to form Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit aimed at raising awareness and seeking solutions. The group has lobbied state and federal officials to improve nutrition in schools and expand access to early education.
"We're trying to make decision makers see this is a national-security matter—and they need to prioritize it," said retired Major Gen. Allen Youngman. In the past, he said, "a drill sergeant could literally run the weight off a soldier as part of the regular training program," but now, "we have young people showing up at the recruiter's office who want to serve but are 50 or more pounds overweight."
About a quarter of high-school graduates also can't pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which measures math and reading skills, Gen. Youngman said. "They aren't educationally qualified to join the military in any capacity, not just the high-tech jobs," he said.
U.S. Army First Sgt. James Sawyer, who heads recruiting across a swath of Los Angeles County, said tattoos have become the most common cosmetic reason that applicants are disqualified. The Army already banned tattoos on the face, neck and fingers, but according to regulations in effect May 1, soldiers also can't have more than a total of four visible tattoos below the elbows and knees, and tattoos must be relatively small. The goal of the tattoo rules is to maintain a professional-looking Army, Sgt. Sawyer said. He added that "the average person in California has a tattoo."
Given the emphasis on having a "professional looking army," and considering that a mere 1% of American youths are both eligible and inclined to have a conversation with the military about joining, it seems obvious that the Pentagon needs to chill out.
Much more at the WSJ.