Defense Department Seeks to Raise Enlistment Age to 42

The Defense Department has asked Congress to raise the maximum age for first-time enlistes to 42 from the current 35. In reality, none of the active components will take anyone over 34 now.

Uncle Sam wants you — even if you’re 42 years old (Army Times)

The Defense Department quietly asked Congress on Monday to raise the maximum age for military recruits to 42 for all branches of the service.

Under current law, the maximum age to enlist in the active components is 35, while people up to age 39 may enlist in the reserves. By practice, the accepted age for recruits is 27 for the Air Force, 28 for the Marine Corps and 34 for the Navy and Army, although the Army Reserve and Navy Reserve sometimes take people up to age 39 in some specialties.

The Pentagon’s request to raise the maximum recruit age to 42 is part of what defense officials are calling a package of “urgent wartime support initiatives†sent to Congress Monday night prior to a Tuesday hearing of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee.

I can’t imagine that there is a large pool of people aged 35-42 who would be joining the Army and Marine Corps–the only services having any trouble recruiting–were they legally able.

Aside from that, this is hardly a sign of imminent collapse of the military, Democratic Underground and DailyKos notwithstanding. We’ve never had a sustained war during the All-Volunteer Force era (1973-present). It turns out recruiting is more difficult when the likelihood of getting shot is greater than theoretical. Surprise, surprise. Still, the force in Iraq is being drawn down already and all indications are to a much greater withdrawal once the elections are held at year’s end.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    I think they’re looking to capture a pool of available talent–say, Arab linguists or Intell analysts?–who can do the work just as well, and perhaps with less training, than a 19-y/o. This, of course, leaves more 19-y/os available for combat.

    It’s not dissimilar from how retirees from government or the private sector are highly recruitable because they bring good work skills and abilities to the job.

  2. Fred Boness says:

    There’s a whole bunch of Boomers with extensive life experience, including prior military service, who will be retiring soon and looking for a second career.

  3. anjin-san says:

    Boomers retiring between the ages of 35-42? LOL, not in this economy. I think you are remembering the Clinton years.

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    Damn, still too old

  5. Don Surber says:

    When they get to 51, wake me up

  6. Ironically, I was under the impression that they had already raised the age cap, and was actually planning, this week, to inquire about it. I’m 42, but would seriously consider joining if they thought they needed me.

  7. Actually, I think the main reason they’re looking for this change is so that they can re-enlist soldiers who were in for a while previously and have experience that they want. I don’t have any links to point to right now, but I remember a while back reading that the army was having problems because a lot of talented and experienced people actually wanted to rejoin, but couldn’t because they were too old. The number isn’t huge, and probably isn’t enough to offset their recruiting problems (in terms of numbers), but even a small number of troops is extremely valuable if they’re already experienced and trained.