Kevin Drum has compiled a list of indicators that the U.S. military may be facing some problems recruiting and/or may be lowering standards to meet their goals. This doesn’t surprise me since it has been a little-advertised fact of life over the 30 years since we switched to an all-volunteer force.
The dirty little secret to military recruiting in an all-volunteer era is that it is almost a perfect capitalist marketplace–even though it’s run by the government. When there is a steady stream of applicants coming in the doors, recruiters can turn away those without high school degrees, the overweight or otherwise physically unfit, and those who do poorly on the intellectual aptitude test (the ASVAB). When recruiting gets tougher, the first thing that happens is advertising and recruiting bonuses go up. If that doesn’t work, standards go down. Suddenly, people in the lowest intelligence quartile (CAT-IVs) are considered wonderful recruits. Too fat? No problem; we’ll take it off during basic training.
The good news is that the economy ebbs and flows and we haven’t had to endure a sustained period of low recruiting standards. Indeed, it’s very much like dollar cost averaging in the stock market; over time, we get a pretty good force. And, fortunately, we’re usually able to weed out the low caliber folks after a single enlistment.