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Pentagon: Young Adults Too Fat, Tattooed, Uneducated for Military

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Saturday, 28 Jun 2014 01:10 PM

The American military is facing a serious personnel issue: More than two-thirds of today's youth are too uneducated, have behavior issues, and are not physically fit enough for

"We're trying to make decision makers see this is a national-security matter — and they need to prioritize it," retired Maj. Gen. Allen Youngman told The Wall Street Journal.

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The major problem is obesity, reports military recruiters. But young adults are also being turned away because they lack high school diplomas, have felony convictions, and are on prescription drugs for ailments such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Still more do not meet the military's appearance standards. New rules issued in March  forbid large-scale tattoos or more than four visible on a soldier's arms or legs. Tattoos are forbidden on other parts of the body not covered by a uniform.

In addition, potential recruits are being turned away because of extreme piercings, such as ear gauges that create large holes in people's earlobes.

As a result, the Defense Department estimates, about 71 percent of the 34 million young adults ages 17 to 24 would not be able to enlist if they tried, not counting people turned away for tattoos or other cosmetic issues.

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Gen. Allen Batschelet, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said that the military is also having trouble attracting youths who are interested in serving, saying that only about one percent of young adults are both "eligible and inclined to have a conversation with us."

The Pentagon only recently began tracking eligibility, but experts say high school seniors now face the longest odds to quality for service since the draft ended in 1973.

About 180,000 eligible men and women volunteer for active-duty forces, with another 110,000 joining reserve and National Guard units.

And as foreign engagement increased in the Middle East in recent years, the military loosened its standards. In 2001, at least 90 percent who enlisted had finished high school, where in 2007, only 79 percent had graduated. But in 2001, the Army accepted recruits who had excess body fat.

"We have not adopted a zero-defect mentality. We evaluate each applicant from a
whole-person perspective," said Defense Department spokesman Nathan Christensen. He noted recruiting targets have been met in recent years.

The obesity problem is still looming. In the past, said Youngman, drill sergeants could run extra weight off new recruits, but now, there are people trying to enlist who are more than 50 pounds overweight.

Recruits also are having problems passing the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which measures their reading and math skills.

"They aren't educationally qualified to join the military in any capacity, not just the high-tech jobs," said Youngman.

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