Military officers say recruiting goals are being met
The recruiting commanders for the four armed services told a Senate panel Thursday they are meeting their recruiting goals, despite an increasingly difficult environment where 70 percent of young Americans are disqualified for military service and the propensity to serve is at the lowest point since the post-Vietnam era.
Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick acknowledged that in achieving its recruiting quotas, his service fell far short of Pentagon standards for high school graduates, with only 79 percent, and has had to grant an increasing number of waivers for medical conditions or past drug use or criminal convictions. By comparison, the Army has reported that nearly 86 percent of its recruits in 2004 were high school graduates and that its percentage of recruits with high school diplomas peaked at 98.6 percent in 1992.
Bostick repeatedly assured the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee that "all soldiers serving in our Army are qualified to serve." He added, "We are not recruiting hardened criminals," although he acknowledged some new soldiers have had felony convictions. Bostick referred to those granted conduct waivers as "some who have made mistakes in the past," and said all requests for such waivers go through 10 layers of review. Bostick said the Army is reviewing the impact on the service from the lower percentage of high school graduates and the increased numbers of moral waivers, but said initial reports indicate those new soldiers were doing well.
The Army also has had to accept recruits who fail to meet the weight and body fat limits, creating a special program that gives overweight recruits a year to meet the standards. The other three services all exceeded the standard of 90 percent high school diplomas or equivalent, but have had to issue some waivers for minor drug use or criminal records.
The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force recruiting commanders also cited the increasing difficulty in finding qualified and willing recruits in an era of "persistent conflict," a national "obesity epidemic" and resistance from parents, teachers and others who influence young people to encourage military service. Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chairman Ben Nelson, D-Neb., noted that "recruiting is a challenge in the best of times. These are not the best of times." He cited the findings that 70 percent of military-age Americans is not qualified for service due to health, education or moral reasons.
With the exception of the Marine Corps, which relies primarily on its challenge to young people to join a service with a reputation for toughness and high standards, the recruiting chiefs stressed the value of the enlistment bonuses, enhanced education assistance and other benefits Congress has provided.
Targeted recruiting bonuses have been particularly helpful in reducing shortages in Navy special warfare personnel and in doctors, dentists and nurses in the Army, Navy and Air Force, the commanders said. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., raised the issue of recruiter abuses, citing an incident in St. Louis in which an Army recruiter was videotaped telling a potential recruit that he would never have to serve in Iraq and that Iraq was safer than downtown St. Louis.
McCaskill asked the status of a pilot program the Army initiated after that incident to put video cameras in its recruiting stations. Bostick said the program was just getting started, but insisted that Army training, supervision, enforcement and a "buddy system" that restricts a recruiter being alone with a potential recruit keep such abuses to a very low number.