U.S. military struggles with suicides, battlefield breakdowns and mental health care (FCN, 06-14-2006)

WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Five years into the Iraqi war, America’s new military recruits are less educated and fewer “qualified” candidates are enlisting. This is the finding in a new analysis by the National Priorities Project called “Military Recruiting 2007: Army Misses Benchmarks by Greater Margin.”

“The Iraq War began to have an impact on recruiting in 2005, when the Army missed its goal for the number of recruits. In 2007, for the third year in a row, the Army did not meet its benchmark for the level of educational attainment of recruits. The percentage of recruits the Department of Defense (DoD) considers ‘high quality’ also dropped considerably,” according to the new report.


“A higher percentage of recruits will drop out well before the end of the first term of enlistment, leading to further increases in spending on recruitment and training, including enlistment bonuses and pay for additional recruiters.”

A spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., acknowledged that it has been a difficult recruiting environment. He said overall high school graduation rates are declining, which could be a factor.

Strained, in part, by military operations in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the military has had to increase the number of waivers and raise enlistment bonuses to fill its ranks.

The report shows that for the third consecutive year, the Army missed Defense Department benchmarks set for educational attainment and scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. The Defense Department has a goal that 90 percent of new recruits have a regular high school diploma or better.

The military classifies recruits according to educational attainment in tiers. “Tier 1” recruits are those with at least a regular high school diploma. The proportion of active-duty Army recruits in Tier 1 has dropped from 83.5 percent in 2005 to 70.7 percent in 2007. While the benchmark of 90 percent was also missed in 2005, the percentages have not been this low for at least 20 years. In 2006, the number was 73.1 percent.

Low- and middle-income neighborhoods continue to be disproportionately represented in the military while wealthier communities and citizens remain underrepresented, the report found.

William P. O’Hare, senior fellow at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire found that there were higher death rates for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq from rural areas that corresponds to the higher rate of enlistment of young adults from rural America.

“Transitioning from youth to adulthood is more problematic in the rural U.S. because there are fewer job opportunities,” explained Mr. O’Hare. Unemployment rates among 18- to 24-year-olds is nine percent in rural America compared to seven percent in urban areas, he noted.

“This is a story of American opportunity as much as it is one of the military losses suffered by rural communities,” said Mil Duncan, director of the Carsey Institute. “Traditional rural industries like farming, timber, mining, fishing and manufacturing are employing fewer workers than they have in the past, and competition accompanying globalization increasingly moves jobs overseas. As these opportunities disappear, rural youth are enlisting in the Armed Forces not only because they are patriotic, but also to find a path to a more promising future.”