Military recruiting challenging

Published: Friday, Aug. 25 2006 10:11 a.m. MDT

Never before has warfare been so complex. Never before, in a volunteer Armed Services, has the Army lowered the recruitment bar so low — all in the name of meeting recruiting goals in the face of a grueling war and a healthy job market at home.

According to congressional investigators, some military recruiters have employed overly aggressive tactics and even criminal activity to meet recruiting goals. At the same time, the Army is accepting a growing number of recruits who scored poorly on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Both are troubling phenomena.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found growing evidence of wrongdoing and criminal acts among military recruiters. Criminal offenses, which included sexual harassment and falsifying medical records, more than doubled from 2004 to 2005.

As the GAO cautions, "Even one incident of recruiter wrongdoing can erode public confidence in the recruiting process."

Another troubling trend is the Army accepting a growing number of recruits who have some of the lowest scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Category IV recruits are those who have scored below the 31st percentile on the test, or what is the lowest category the military can accept. Army officials say the branch will have enlisted 3,200 Category IV recruits by the end of next month, the end of the federal fiscal year. They now comprise about 4 percent of the recruiting class, compared to 1 percent or less throughout the 1990s.

This trend portends problems on the battlefield, according to the Army's own studies. For instance, a 1992 study tested Patriot missile battery crews for battlefield survival skills. It found soldiers who had tested in the highest ranks on the Armed Forces Qualification Test scored at 68 percent, while those in Category IV scored at 26 percent, according to a Baltimore Sun report.

Academic research also shows that these lower-scoring recruits have a higher probability of disciplinary problems and difficulty absorbing training, and are more likely to drop out before the end of their first tour of duty.

The larger issue is, what does the GAO audit and the Army's own acceptance of lower-scoring recruits portend for the future? Will the military lower its standards further to sustain its numbers? Will recruiters who engage in inappropriate, if not criminal, conduct be duly punished? Can, in this economy, the military maintain its recruiting goals? More important, will Congress be forced into reinstituting a draft?

Something's got to give to ensure the military can continue to entice the best and brightest to serve this country in an increasingly challenging season of warfare.

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