The few, the proud, the 23 percent

On a comment thread recently, we had another one of our periodic discussions of who (among political types) served in the military when and who did not, with all the attendant side comments about how those fellas on the other end of the political spectrum (whichever end you happen to be on) are a bunch of duty-shirking cowards, etc.

At some point, of course, I got into the thing about how I never had the chance to serve because of the rather minor problem of chronic asthma (for which I’m taking prednisone again this week, and it’s working fine, thanks).

I was reminded of this today, because Maj. Gen. James Milano spoke to the Columbia Rotary Club, and he once again mentioned a statistic that boggles his mind and seldom fails to impress others…

What percentage, he asked Rotarians, of Americans aged 17-24* can meet the basic qualifications to serve in the U.S. Army today?

The answer: 23 percent. “And we’re not looking for astrophysicists and Olympic athletes,” he elaborated.

So… more or less, that means that 77 percent of young Americans are what previous generations described as 4-F.

We have an all-volunteer military, and with the economy the way it is, the Army can kind of pick and choose among recruits, but only 23 percent are up to snuff.

He didn’t break it down in terms of how many were due to this or that cause, although he listed some disqualifiers:

  • Asthma. (So no point in my stepping forward.)
  • Having been on anxiety medications.
  • Basically, being on any medications as of the day you report. If you can’t do without, you can’t join the Army.
  • Criminal record (which the general broadened, saying “any type of immoral behavior,” but no one asked for an elaboration and he didn’t offer one).
  • Lack of a high school diploma. The Army was taking GEDs before, not now.

Bottom line, he seemed mostly worried about general lack of physical fitness. You can be 4 percent over the weight limit when you show up for basic, because they’ll work that off of you with little trouble. But beyond that, forget it.

Once the Army’s got you, you’ll probably make it, though. The general said recruits are treated these days like professional athletes in training — zero fried foods, with drill instructors looking at what you put on your tray and letting you know if you’re not picking the right items in the chow line. Physical trainers work to prevent injuries, and help soldiers overcome them when they occur. Consequently, there’s only about a 7 to 8 percent washout rate due to physical problems.

The general worries a great deal about our out-of-shape country, sitting around eating at least one fast-food meal a day, watching TV, gaining fat and losing bone density. Among 12-19 year olds today, he said, one out of five are obese and soon it will be one in four. In 1970 (when, ahem, yours truly was in that demographic group), it was one in 20. “What are we doing? Where are we going? What are our priorities, here?”

He also worries about the fact that more than half of kids today are born to single moms. He was careful to say he wished to cast no aspersions, but he worries about it. Over a third of his female drill instructors being single moms themselves (and 7 percent of the male DIs having sole custody of children), and the Fort operating a child care center from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, he’s had plenty to worry about.

Anyway, there’s a sampling of what’s on the mind of  the modern major general.

* Kathryn and others who were there: I wrote down 17-24 percent, but later, when he talked about taking people up to 35, I wondered whether I had misheard, and maybe it was supposed to be 17-34. What did you hear? In any case, a lot of out-of-shape young folks.

8 thoughts on “The few, the proud, the 23 percent

  1. `Kathryn Fenner

    The statistic he cited was 17-24 year olds. He later said they reduced the max age to enlist from 42 to 35.

  2. Doug Ross

    “He also worries about the fact that more than half of kids today are born to single moms. He was careful to say he wished to cast no aspersions, but he worries about it. ”

    Hmmm… maybe the problem is that we have become a society that is afraid to cast aspersions on the negative consequences of having children out of wedlock.

    Wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, right? Especially on the second, third, and fourth out of wedlock child…

    The first illigetimate kid might be a mistake. The second one is pure stupidity.

  3. `Kathryn Fenner

    For several years now, my husband has been teaching officers at Fort Gordon mathematics for engineers–and while many are quite well-qualified, many are woefully not–and they are selected by the Army based on aptitude. Would it be so awful if someone with asthma or other minor health issue, who was also skilled in STEM subjects, which the Army of today needs more than grunts, be so bad?

  4. Burl Burlingame

    When I was drafted, there were guys at the physical who acted “crazy,” trying to get deferred. These guys were immediately inducted into the Marines. “Either they’re not crazy and they’re shirkers and the Marines will figure it out, or they ARE crazy, in which case they’re ideal Marine Corps material,” the Army sergeant explained.

  5. Steven Davis

    Walk anywhere in this city and outside of a gym you’re going to witness 50%+ obesity. This country is fatter than it’s ever been and going to get worse. It’s sickening, and the problem is not “glandular” it’s people stuffing their mouth. Does a 12 year old really need to get the 87 ounce supersized Coke?

    You can get out of PE class with a note from your mom if you’re uncomfortable running or participating in any kind of physical activity. They send you to study hall where you get to sit and read magazines and update your Facebook page.

    There’s a saying on Parris Island, the quickest way off the island is to graduate. You want to quit, they’ll let you quit… but they don’t have to process the paperwork as fast as you want it done. There are recruits there who have been there for more than a year… and it doesn’t get any easier in remedial boot camp.

  6. `Kathryn Fenner

    He also said that about 7% of the men are single dads with custody. being a single parent can result from a variety of reasons, especially in the military. He didn’t say “never wed”–he said “single parent.” Divorce is very common–military life is not easy on a marriage, and then, of course, one’s spouse can be killed.

  7. Mark Stewart

    Living up to the term spouse is very often not easy to do; unfortunately it’s all too easy to give up and leave kids hanging.

    Sounds like the general has a better sense of society than most people do.

  8. Silence

    In the civilian world, there are some strong incentives for poor parents not to be married, including staying eligible for medicaid, WIC, SNAP, etc. In the military world, there are some strong incentives TO be married, especially prior to a deployment. These include housing pay, separation pay, insurance and probably some others. I knew several folks who got married in the service either just for the benefits, or to keep people from asking and telling.

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