Soldiers: Not Poor, Stupid Hicks

Yet another study shows what any of us who've ever spent any time around soldiers already knew: Our Army is not comprised of stupid people who couldn't find a decent job.

Spencer Ackerman (“Today’s Army: Smarter, Richer, Southern“) points to yet another study showing what any of us who’ve ever spent any time around soldiers already knew:  Our Army is not comprised of stupid people who couldn’t find a decent job.

The National Priorities Project, a lefty research organization in Massachusetts, crunched the numbers for enlistment in fiscal 2009. Its findings show an Army that’s smarter and more upwardly mobile than it often gets credit for being. Yes, in order to meet the strain of recruiting during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the military as a whole lowered standards in the mid-2000s. But the National Priorities Project indicates that the Army, at least, may have turned a corner — and this is a group of people that knows it’s going to war.

For one thing, the percentage of recruits with at least a high school diploma has been on the rise. It jumped to 84.9 percent in fiscal 2009 compared to 70.7 percent in fiscal 2007. It’s not quite the Defense Department’s goal of 90 percent, but it’s trending in that direction.

Recruits also passed their military-capability exams, known as the Armed Forces Qualification Test, in greater numbers. In 2009, 66 percent scored at or above average, while 62 percent did the previous year. Only 1.5 percent in 2009 were allowed to proceed despite scoring below average, a drop from the 3.5 percent in 2008.

What about disciplinary behavior? Recruits granted waivers to join up despite criminal offenses dropped to 5,428 in fiscal 2009 from 8,029 the previous year. Only 324 waivers for alcohol or drug consumption were granted in 2009 — a big drop from the 1,154 in 2008. Medical waivers dipped slightly from 5,434 to 5,020. And this is out of a pool of 70,045 recruits in 2009.

Perhaps more surprising is that none of these positive trends are explained by more people joining up due to the economy. The study “did not find that the recession and its high rates of unemployment led to more Army recruits of higher quality.” Indeed, youth from the lowest 20 percent of U.S. income brackets are “under-represented among new Army recruits, more so in 2009 than in previous years.” Indeed, middle-class youth “are over-represented among 2009 Army recruits” — and the service even showed a “slight upwards shift” of rich kids joining up.

The numbers vary from year to year.  During the dog days of the Iraq War, which coincided with a booming economy, it was more difficult for the Army to meet recruiting goals and standards dropped somewhat.   But the standards are high to begin with.

The Army really, really doesn’t want recruits without a high school diploma.  It’s considered the key predictor to successful completion of a first enlistment.  While a mere high school diploma may not sound like much to the average OTB reader — you’re overwhelmingly college grads and a grossly disproportionate share of you have graduate or professional degrees — only 69% of students graduate high school with a regular diploma in four years.  And males, which make up the bulk of Army accessions, graduate at any even lower rate.  So, the fact that upwards of 80% of enlistees have diplomas is statistically impressive.

The disciplinary standards are, not surprisingly, even higher.   The Army took in 63,661 recruits in 2009; well under 10 percent required any kind of waiver.

Nor is it shocking that recruits aren’t coming from the bottom income quintile.  Yes, the pay and benefits would be attractive for a young man coming out of that environment.   But, sadly, the disproportionately don’t measure up in terms of criminal record, educational attainment, and aptitude test scores.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    This is the dog that didn’t bark in the night. What reputable authority has claimed that the majority of our army is composed of poor, stupid hicks? Can you give us a few examples Jim?

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Quiet please. That does not fit the narrative of poor people joining as a last resort or the soldiers being dumb enough to support their mission.

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    “That does not fit the narrative of poor people joining as a last resort or the soldiers being dumb enough to support their mission.”

    And what responsible person has said they were? The man in moon or some other figment of your imagination?.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Brummagem,

    Rangle and Kerry have both played this stereotype. They are not figments of my imagination but in fact are Democratic party leaders. Your memory is short.

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    Steve Plunk says:
    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 17:57

    “They are not figments of my imagination but in fact are Democratic party leaders.”

    Would you like to actually produce some evidence in the form of a link perhaps because, you see, I’m the tiniest bit sceptical about your assertions.

  6. DC Loser says:

    Rangel and Kerry were both veterans of the military. I’d like to see Steve’s DD214.

  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Rangel and Kerry were both veterans of the military. I’d like to see Steve’s DD214.”

    I’ll happily settle for some evidence that Rangel and Kerry have said the majority of the US army is composed of hicks and the stupid. Outside of that I’m afraid the conclusion must be it’s just another of Steve’s little porkies.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    DC Loser, So according to you I can’t criticize statements like Rangel’s and Kerry’s because I did not serve in the military? Further, according to your logic only military veterans can speak as citizens on military topics? Would that include our current president?

    Brummagem, Google it. It’s there and I believe you know it so why should I jump through your hoops? Kerry and Rangel both made statements that our military was made up of poor, desperate kids with no other choices.

  9. DC Loser says:

    Steve – I’d take the word of Kerry or Rangel over you since they did serve. As for Obama, he’s the President, so he’s much better informed then you (or I) given his access to the information from the top and the bottom.

  10. JKB says:

    @Joe – Do your own googling in the future Here are the results of the keywords senator soldiers poor uneducated.

    Just for your fine sense of liberalism, I picked a link to the LA Times. Although it is column debunking Kerry’s slur.

    Then of course, you have author Stephen King
    “…King recently told a group of high school students at the Library of Congress, “If you don’t [read], then you’ve got, the Army, Iraq, I don’t know, something like that.””

  11. Peter says:

    Years ago it wasn’t uncommon for judges to tell young offenders “Army or prison – your choice.”

  12. Rock says:

    I was a former military recruiter and we had to acquire police criminal record reports from any state, city, or county, the applicant said they lived in during the last five years. Usually this was done by sending registered mail requests to the various agencies involved and took time. On occasion we could get the local police department to submit the name of the applicant to the National Crime Information Service (NCIS) I think it was called at the time, for checks and verification of criminal records. But I never met a person who was offered “Army or Prison.” I did meet several whose parents threatened to disinherit them if they didn’t server in the armed forces.

  13. mts says:

    “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
    John Kerry
    Botched joke about President Bush which he was forced to apologize for, October 2006

  14. Janis Gore says:

    I’d guess that a lot of young men at loose ends after they graduate are sick to death of the classroom and want to see something of the real world. Tired of their mamas and daddies and teachersand the general run of things, they want to go off and do something that has some meaning. Some benefits.

  15. Mr. Prosser says:

    This “dumb and hick” meme has been around forever. One of the best things I learned serving in Viet nam was that most of us were pretty damn smart and more importantly, had a lot of that elusive common sense, especially the career NCO’s.

  16. Brummagem Joe says:

    JKB says:
    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 19:37
    @Joe – Do your own googling in the future Here are the results of the keywords senator soldiers poor uneducated.

    Er….Kerry is making a joke…is this evidence of Humor Deficit Disorder amongst Republicans

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    Steve Plunk says:
    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 19:29
    “Brummagem, Google it.”

    Another victim of Humor Deficit Disorder. Really guys is this the best you can do?

  18. Ole Sarge says:

    That was being said back in the late 1970s when I enlisted in the USAF, that only those with no future went into the military. There was “no war” and “no hostile fire areas,” it wasn’t a hard decision for many people. There were also no jobs, and few prospects for higher education (many of the federal programs did not exist in the late 1970s.

    I also have heard the “war stories” about the military or jail. Only in a couple cases is there any credence, and those words were spoken by parents as in “you can make something of your-self in the military, or stick around here and eventually end up in jail (for trouble making)” to their bored kids just out of school with no job(s) to keep them busy.

    That old adage has been around for decades if not centuries. I’m sure some Romans even heard a version of this two thousand years ago too.

  19. Steve Plunk says:

    Brummagem, Caught in your own arrogance you play the humor card. That’s what guys like Stewart and Colbert hide behind when taken to task for their nonsense as well. I was right, you were wrong. Now that’s funny.

    DCLoser, You avoided my question and I suppose that’s because you now realize how foolish of a statement you made. Once again, I was right, you were wrong. BTW, go ahead and take the word of Rangel. He’s under an ethics investigation.

  20. Janis Gore says:

    I derived my previous comment from the actions of two of my brothers. One enlisted in the Coast Guard straight out of school in ’57 and the other enlisted in the Army in about ’62.

  21. Brummagem Joe says:

    Steve Plunk says:
    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 11:47
    “Brummagem, Caught in your own arrogance you play the humor card.”

    That arrogance must be widespread. It’s a joke. As in Reagan’s “When does the bombing start?” or McCain’s ” Bomb… bomb…Iran” Got it? Or is a little coloring book required to aid understanding?

  22. DC Loser says:

    Sure Steve, whatever you say, you’re always right.

  23. Steve Plunk says:

    DC, I only speak when I know I’m right and when Dr. Joyner made the point originally I Googled a few of the statements to be sure. I didn’t just spout off but instead took my time to confirm what was said. I’m no genius but I ain’t dumb neither.

    Brummagem, Kerry was trying to explain his statement as a failed joke but I recall seeing the clip and he was serious at the time. I don’t need the coloring book but you might need a better memory.

  24. Brummagem Joe says:

    Steve Plunk says:
    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 16:59

    ‘Brummagem, Kerry was trying to explain his statement as a failed joke but I recall seeing the clip”

    You should follow your own links to the actual occasion as I did (no memory required) and it was obviously a joke. The coloring book is in the mail.

  25. DC Loser says:

    That Rangel is under investigation for ethics violation has nothing to do with his service as a vet, which I notice you didn’t deem worthy of your time. I guess you ‘had other priorities’ and let others who were lower on the economic scale of our society take your place, since it is after all a volunteer army.

  26. DC Loser says:

    I’m sure Steve thinks GOP and Tea Party standardbearers like Rich Iott are much better qualified than Rangel or Kerry to speak about the military. Though which military I’m not sure.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/why-is-this-gop-house-candidate-dressed-as-a-nazi/64319/

  27. Brummagem Joe says:

    “Though which military I’m not sure.”

    This one?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzeNj1vlzAk

  28. george says:

    “That arrogance must be widespread. It’s a joke. As in Reagan’s “When does the bombing start?” or McCain’s ” Bomb… bomb…Iran” Got it? Or is a little coloring book required to aid understanding?”

    Except the democrats made a big thing out of Reagan’s joke, and of McCain’s. Both parties do the same thing – if their side says something its a joke and the other side is running a humor deficit, if the other side says it then it must reflect their deeply held beliefs.

    They’re both consistently hypocritical.

  29. Brummagem Joe says:

    george says:
    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 17:33

    “They’re both consistently hypocritical.”

    Of course they do but this doesn’t alter the fact all three occasions were jokes as you concede. I personally never believed otherwise. So it’s not me with the humor deficit only those like Steve who want to pretend any of them were something else as a means of suggesting in this case Kerry had slandered the military. He didn’t.