FORT BELVOIR, Va., April 22, 2008 – The military services continue to make their recruiting numbers despite the most difficult recruiting market in years, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told noncommissioned officers here today. However, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said at a quarterly NCO breakfast, there is concern in some quarters that the Army is letting in too many recruits with physical or criminal waivers.

“We’re recruiting at the most difficult time,” he said.

Mullen stressed that standards to enlist are high. Out of the total pool of 18- to 24-year-olds, only three out of 10 qualify to come into the military without a waiver, the chairman said. “And out of that three, a lot of them want to do something else besides come into the services,” he said.

The services must meet their goals, because not making them causes a long-term problem. “It creates a hole that takes you 20 years to recover from,” Mullen said.

The military services must compete with private industry for the most talented young people, Mullen said. “In the long run, it’s going to be about us competing in the marketplace,” Mullen said.

Regarding paying bonuses to qualified recruits, Mullen said the practice does not mean that the military is moving toward a mercenary force.

“(We are) competing with the best companies in the world for these young people,” he said. “(We have a) noble cause, a higher calling, get an education, gain a skill, whatever you do you can set yourself up for life, whether you stay or not. There’s an awful lot to offer in the military.”

Another challenge is that Iraq has affected the way “influencers” — parents, relatives, coaches, scoutmasters, etc. — advise young people about military service, Mullen said. “Because of what is an unpopular war in Iraq, the counselors across the board are not inclined to send their young people to the services,” he said.

Mullen said he also is watching the number of high school graduates who join the services. Historically, completing high school is a good indicator that recruits will complete their terms of service, he said.

In a broad-ranging question-and-answer session, Mullen said he does not want to see a one-uniform, joint service for the U.S. military.

“It is a wonderful mix of cultures that I would not change at all,” Mullen said. “This is the best military in the history of the world. These five services provide a capability that is unique.”

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