It's getting more difficult for America's fighting forces to find a few good men (or women). In testimony before Congress last week, Gen. Robert B. Neller, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant, said that the vast majority of young people are not cut out for military service. "It's a strategic issue that less than 30 percent of the young men and women of our nation are qualified just to join the military, either because of physical, mental or moral issues," he testified. "So now we're down to 30 percent and now we have to find those that have a propensity or are interested in doing this."
While Gen. Neller was speaking about Marine Corps recruiting, the issue of finding quality candidates cuts across all branches of service. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Bill McClain tells KTRH that physical fitness is a particular hurdle for potential recruits. "Obesity and their physical condition are problems to begin with, and then when they do get in a lot of them become injured while they're doing basic training because of their lack of physical conditioning," he says. "I don't think you have to be a sociologist to know that our young people today in a lot of cases are just not as physically fit as they were in the past."
When it comes to military fitness, there are other issues besides physical. Gen. Neller testified that illegal drug use among Marines has declined in recent years, but "we struggle with alcohol and certain behaviors."
Maj. Gen. McClain agrees, noting that there are certain risk factors inherent in the military's primary age group. "We're still talking about folks that are between 18 and 25, and I think the propensity for some of that behavior is more predominant in that age group."
While finding qualified recruits and getting them through basic training is a challenge, those who do make it are staying longer. "I'm amazed at the re-enlistment rates which are quite high, and that's even with a lot of these folks who have had repeated tours or deployments...but they're still enlisting at high rates, and to me that's pretty remarkable," says Maj. Gen. McClain.