Attrition: The Best And The Brightest Go Air Force


October 26,2008:  In the American military, during the last century, the "best and the brightest" have always gravitated to aviation. This was demonstrated again when data was compiled on the new recruits for the past year. The air force got the best educated. That is,  99 percent high school graduates, and 79 percent scored in the top half of those taking the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test, a general aptitude exam tweaked to emphasize mental skills most useful in the military.)

At the bottom were the army recruits. Only 83 percent were high school grads, and 62 percent were in the top half of those who took the AFQT (including the applicants who did not get in). The army used to have higher standards, but fear of combat and anti-war attitudes of many parents forced the army to lower the bar during the last five years. Improved selection and training methods kept army performance up. Note that most of the fall-off in recruits were for non-combat jobs. The combat jobs always had plenty of quality recruits. That's partly because only 15 percent of the jobs in the army are combat related. Then there was patriotism and the opportunity to be in a war, which brought in plenty of quality recruits for the combat jobs. For some young men, this is still an attraction.

For all the services, 92 percent were high school graduates and 69 percent scored in the top half of those who took the AFQT. Only the army had any problems recruiting during the war. For most of the last eight years, the air force and navy have actually been reducing their strength, and thus were able to be more picky when it came to new recruits. The marines are disproportionately a combat force, and one with a high reputation for being challenging and life-changing. They have no trouble getting the people they need. The navy provides most of the support services, including the medics who serve with marine infantry platoons.

With the hard fight in Iraq over, and Afghanistan requiring far fewer troops, the army is seeing the quality of recruits improving. Meanwhile, all the services are facing potential problems with a flood of new technology. Even the infantry have to cope with lots of new gadgets. This has turned out to be less of a problem than expected. That's because the young men and women entering the military have all grown up with technology. Even those from poor families have learned to handle cell phones, game consoles and PCs. Once in the military, these teenage gadget lovers get to keep going, often finding the military gadgets less of a challenge than the stuff they enjoyed playing with as kids, and now when they are off duty.

For last two decades, those getting into the military have been better educated, healthier and more successful (once out of the military) than their civilian peers (adjusted for age and education).




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