The Army faces major challenges in recruiting from the under-24 demographic group, due to education, health and conduct deficiencies, said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, commanding general of U.S. Army Accessions Command.
Those challenges, he told reporters at a Pentagon media roundtable discussion, disqualify seven of 10 military applicants.
“We think education is a strategic issue for the country,” Freakley said. “Nationally, we have a 70 percent high school graduation rate. We have not lowered our standards, but the goals from the Office of the Secretary of Defense are that 90 percent of those who come in the all-volunteer force have graduated from high school.”
Last year, 83 percent of Army recruits were high school graduates.
“Our second challenge is with health,” Freakley said. “Of 32 million 17- to 24-year-olds, 3.2 million of them are childhood obese — that’s 10 percent. Several years ago, one in 20 Americans was obese, but that’s closing in soon on one in four.”
Freakley said many of those 3.2 million have childhood diabetes or muscular skeletal issues and that the youth of today have 8 percent less bone mass, which translates to stress fractures from running and more youth using prescription drugs.
The third issue the Army is facing is bad conduct. Young people disqualify themselves from entering the military because of events that happened in middle or high school.
“We’re trying to change the landscape as we look and work in this environment,” the general said. “Educationally, we have a program, ‘March to Success’ which helps young people get online and do better with standardized tests.
“We have a ‘Planning for Life’ program where we go into schools and talk about strong bodies, strong minds, strong souls and try to keep them focused on completing high school,” Freakley added. “Our recruiters are getting into schools, serving as role models and counselors, setting standards and examples, so we’re working on this in every way we can.”
To put the matter in context, Freakley cited two famous war heroes. “Audie Murphy, World War II Medal of Honor awardee, and Alvin York, World War I Medal of Honor awardee, would not be eligible to come into today’s Army,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, commander of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said the Army took in 170,000 men and women last year, which is about the size of the population of Newport News, Va.
So far in fiscal 2009, which began in October, the regular Army is at about 105 percent of goal, and the Army Reserve is at 112 percent of its goal, Bostick said.
“It’s the best start we’ve had in about six years,” he said. “I’m fully confident we’ll accomplish the 78,000 mission for the regular Army and 26,500 mission for the Army Reserves.”
Bostick said recruiting has gone especially well in the medical and Special Forces areas, adding that in 2008 a medical recruiting brigade consisting of five medical battalions scattered throughout the country was stood up. He also said the Army has achieved 100 percent success with Special Forces recruiting and created a special missions brigade. Recruitment of chaplains and warrant officers also has been high.
While the poor economy has created hardships on soldiers as it has every American, Bostick said, historically, as unemployment rises, the Army tends to see improvement in some areas of recruiting. Yet, “less than three out of 10 young men and women are qualified to serve, so we still must deal with that, whether it’s education, obesity or misconduct as they were growing up.”
Even so, he said, the quality of the U.S. soldier has never been better.
“Everyone who serves in the Army is fully qualified to serve. One hundred percent of our soldiers have high school diplomas or GEDs,” Bostick said. “The aptitude of our soldiers is higher than the average American walking the streets throughout the cities and towns across America, and eight of 10 soldiers require no waivers.”
The general added that the Army has what he considers a very sound process that looks at young Americans and makes the determination that if they made a mistake in their lives and recovered from it, they deserve an opportunity to serve.
For potential recruits who’ve made more serious mistakes, Bostick said, the applicants go through a 10-level decision process ending with him or another general officer who makes the final determination on suitability, whether the waiver is for medical or character reasons.
Maj. Gen. Arthur M. Bartell, who is charged with recruiting officers as commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command, said the Army was on track to meet its mission of commissioning 4,500 officers for fiscal 2009. For fiscal 2010, that number will increase to 5,100, and in fiscal 2011, officer growth will top out at 5,350.
“More than 60 percent of our lieutenants come through the ROTC program,” he said. “In a word, what makes the ROTC experience special is diversity – that’s geographic, educational, gender and ethnic diversity. Diversity exposes young Americans to a community of ideas that we find in our traditional college campus environment.”
Characteristics of athleticism, high mental aptitude and leadership are characteristics the Army wants its future officers to possess, he said, adding that ROTC is present at 273 colleges and universities and represented in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Bartell said the Army hasn’t had to change its standards of quality for new officers, nor does he see that changing in the future, despite recruiting challenges.