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77% of US youth unqualified for military service
Gabriel Honrada

US military recruitment crisis rooted in obesity, drug addiction, mental health issues and low educational attainmentThe US military faces an unprecedented rebe a significant factor in declining US military recruitment rates. “Woke” refers to awareness and attention to critical societal facts and issues, especially related to race, gender and social justice.

In a June 2023 article for Task and Purpose, Jeff Schogol mentions that for two years Republican lawmakers have accused the military of going “woke,” with the term being used to attack lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) service members and a recruitment crisis, with health, education, political and societal challenges undermining the force’s combat readiness against near-peer adversaries including China.

In March 2023, American Military News reported that a 2020 Pentagon study revealed that 77% of young Americans do not qualify for military service without a waiver due to drug abuse mental or physical problems, or being overweight.

The most prevalent disqualification rates were being overweight (11%), drug and alcohol abuse (8%) and medical/physical health (7%), with the most significant increases in disqualification estimates observed between 2013 and 2020 were for mental health and overweight conditions.

American Military News mentions that the US Department of Defense (DOD) has acknowledged the challenges of recruiting new military members, citing factors such as youth being more disconnected and disinterested compared to previous generations.

The report says that the declining veteran population and a shrinking military footprint have contributed to a market unfamiliar with military service, leading to an overreliance on military stereotypes. 

It also says that Pentagon leaders have expressed concerns about the recruiting mission, predicting they will collectively miss it despite accessing more than 170,000 qualified young men and women in the fiscal year ending on September 30.

Ben Kensling notes in a July 2023 article for the Wall Street Journal that the US Army expects this year to end up 15,000 recruits short of its 65,000 target, the US Navy ending up 10,000 short of 38,000 recruits, and the US Air Force ending 3,000 short of 27,000 recruits.

While Kensling notes that the US Marine Corps met its target last year of sending 33,000 recruits to boot camp, service leaders have described recruitment as challenging. He also says that Pentagon data shows only 9% of people aged between 16-21 would consider military service, down from 13% before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Delving deeper into the problem, Task and Purpose mentions in an August 2022 videothat unqualified citizens, economics, declining trust in the military, and woke culture have exacerbated the US military’s recruitment woes.

Low educational attainment and criminal records disqualify many potential US military recruits. In a February 2018 article for The Heritage Foundation, Thomas Spoehr and Bridget Handy mention that the US military requires a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) to qualify, which eliminates many young Americans from being able to serve.

Spoehr and Handy point out that despite the US National Center for Education Statistics reporting an adjusted cohort graduation rate of 83% in the 2014-2015 school year, this statistic does not account for lowered graduation standards, incomplete data or students who transferred to other programs.

Low educational attainment also impacts the US’s ability to maintain its technological edge against near-peer adversaries like China and Russia.

In an April 2022 article for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)think tank, Gabrielle Athanasia and Jillian Cota note that the US is falling in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) proficiency compared to other leading countries. It cites 2019 data showing the US average mathematics score ranked 15th among international students, lower than China, South Korea, Japan Singapore and Russia.

Spoehr and Hardy also point out that criminal history hinders young adults’ ability to join the US military. They mention that previous criminality prevents one of every ten young adults from being able to join the military, meaning that 3.4 million people who would otherwise qualify are unable to join, with their disqualifying criminal behavior starting early in their youth.

Meanwhile, Task and Purpose points out that the US unemployment rate is at its lowest in decades, with February 2023 data from the US Department of Commerce showing that the US unemployment rate has dropped to 3.4%, with over a half million jobs created in January and 800,000 manufacturing jobs created in the last two years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says those figures prove that the Biden administration’s economic plan is working, with the unemployment rate at 3.4%, the lowest in 54 years. The data also shows that the US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis reported a 2.9% GDP growth in Q2 2022, with real wages higher than seven months ago.

Those figures, Task and Purpose notes, have decreased the available manpower pool for the US military to draw from, as potential recruits have more lucrative employment options.

Declining trust in the US military has also impacted its appeal to prospective recruits, according to reports. In a July 2023 article for Gallup, Mohammed Younis notes that Americans are less likely to express confidence in the US military, with a noticeable decline that has persisted over the past five years.

Younis mentions that confidence generally held above 70% after the 9/11 terror attacks, until dipping to 69% in 2021 and declining further since the rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He notes that Republicans have been the most likely to express confidence in the military, but the rate has declined by over 20 percentage points in three years, from 91% to 68%.

He also says Independents’ confidence has dropped nearly as much, from 68% to 55%, and that they now have less confidence than Democrats.

The protracted US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the disastrous 2021 US withdrawal from the former, may have engendered a sense of pessimism in US public and policymaking circles, damaging US society’s perceptions of the US military.

“Woke culture” may also d claim the military is becoming too feminine.

Schogol notes that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has made his criticisms of the “woke military” a pillar of his campaign to win the Republican party’s presidential nomination.

Schogol also notes that House Republicans recently added an “anti-woke” amendment to a budget bill that would prevent the US Department of Veterans Affairs from providing abortions, transgender health care or flying LGBTQ Pride flags.

As for the impact of “wokeness” on US military recruitment, Schogol cites US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, who has voiced concerns that the politicization of military leaders contributes to a decline in trust in the military.

She also stressed that the US Army is a “ready Army” and not a “woke Army,” as it struggles to address its recruitment problem.



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