Attrition: The Few Who Are Fit To Fight


April 26, 2010:  A recent American study ("Too Fat To Fight") points out that a fourth of potential military recruits can't join because they are too fat. This is a big change from World War II, when obesity was rare, and recruits who were too thin were more common. But since then, the introduction of TV, video games, computers and a lot more fun food has led to the largest generation. But it's more than just a lack of exercise and too many Twinkies.

One of the biggest problems American military recruiters have is the bad lifestyles of young Americans. It shouldn't be that way, for there are 32 million people in the prime military age group (17-24). But because of bad lifestyle choices, only 13 percent of them are eligible for service. Each year, the armed forces have to recruit 180,000 new troops. The military is allowed to waive some physical or mental standards, and this means that only about 20 percent of those 32 million potential recruits qualify. Each year, recruiters have to convince 2.7 percent of those eligible that they should join up. It's a tough job, made worse by a generation that eats too much, exercises too little and doesn't pay enough attention in school.

Some 57 percent of potential recruits are lost because they do not score high enough on the aptitude test the military uses to see if people have enough education and mental skills to handle military life. Many of those who score too low do so because they did not do well at school. A lot of these folks have high IQs, but low motivation. Most of the remainder are not eligible for physical reasons. But get this, the most common physical disqualifier is being overweight. Nearly a third of the people of military age are considered obese. The big folks who are eager to join, are told how much weight they have to lose before they can enlist, but few return light enough to sign up.

As a result of all this, the recruits who do get in are a very select and motivated group. Thus the average soldier today is smarter, and in much better physical shape, than civilians of the same age and gender. But by being this selective, it requires more money and effort to find the people needed. During World War II, the percentage of acceptable recruits was more than double what it is today. Young men and women were in better physical shape, fewer got into trouble with drugs or crime, and military educational standards were not as high because there were more non-technical jobs available.because there were more non-technical jobs available.



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