Peace Time: September 7, 2001


The army recently announced that for the first time in many years it had achieved it's recruiting goals early. Their PR spin on this was that the new advertising campaign and a way cool web site had a lot to do with it. The economic downturn may also have had an effect. But there's also something else at play; lowering standards. This sort of thing is talked about quietly in the Pentagon, and always denied in official communications (unless someone is under oath). Lowering standards is not a crime, in wartime it's a necessity. In peacetime, setting the bar higher makes it cheaper and easier to train and retain recruits. A good example of this is the historical attrition among recruits (how many do not finish their term of service.) Between Korean and Vietnam wars the army had more potential draftees and was very choosy. Under those conditions, about ten percent of draftees failed to complete their mandatory two year stint. But for those who volunteered (a three year term), the standards were lower and the attrition rate was about 20 percent. The draft ended in 1972 and ever since then all the troops are volunteers. By the 1990s, the attrition rate was 37 percent, where it has stayed. There are sharp differences by race, gender, and education. Women have a much higher attrition rate, with 55 percent of white women failing to complete their service, although this was only 39 percent for black women. For men, the attrition rate was 36 percent for whites, 26 percent for Hispanics and 33 percent for blacks. As the army has long known, lack of a high school diploma makes for the worst kind of recruit. Those folks have an attrition rate of 52 percent. Those with a high school diploma had an attrition rate of 35 percent. What this all shows is that the recruits being obtained are much less willing to stick it out than those of the 1950s and 60s. Why this is so is open to speculation. Speaking as someone who served in the for three years in the early 1960s, I can note several things. First, everyone agreed that what we were doing was for the public good. National defense and all that. None of us were happy about being there, but we made the most of it. The draftees were the better soldiers, because they tended to be a few years older and better educated (a lot of recent college grads.) Most of the NCOs were World War II and Korean war vets, as were many of the senior officers. So the troops had a good attitude and there was good leadership. Basic training wasn't all that tough, although it was seen as a challenge and an accomplishment to get through it. What's different today is an acceptance at the troop level that not completing your term of service is no big thing. Basic training is much less of a challenge because men and women are trained together. There are few wartime vets among the NCOs and officers. And recruiting standards are not as high. Each year (since 1995), the test scores of new recruits decline. In 2000, the army accepted 380 recruits with felony arrests, twice the number accepted in 1998. All this would appear to account for an increase of attrition among volunteers (from 20 percent to nearly 40 percent.)


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