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Retired officers target social ills disqualifying youth from military service

Due to obesity, drug abuse and other issues, a significant portion of young Americans are not qualified to serve in the military.

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Army obstacle course
Army obstacle course
(U.S. Army)
Updated: December 27, 2020 - 11:24pm

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Retired military leaders have asked the Pentagon to form a multiagency committee to help fight a number of social ills that prevent young people from being accepted into the services.

Nearly three-quarters of American youth do not qualify for service because they are too overweight, or have other roadblocks, the leaders wrote in a plea to acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller.

"As you know, 71 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are currently ineligible for military service, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a history of crime or substance abuse," the leaders wrote. The leaders belong to a group called Mission: Readiness, a nearly 800-member coalition of retired generals and admirals.

"These factors largely fall outside of the Department of Defense's purview, but have an immense impact on the ability of the military to recruit new servicemembers as well as a significant monetary impact on the Department," the leaders wrote. "Without coordinated action, these trends pose a significant threat to the future of the all-volunteer force."

The military became an all-volunteer force on July 1, 1973, after President Richard Nixon asked the Pentagon to get rid of the draft, and to fill the ranks with volunteers. The Defense Department began a campaign to portray military service as a positive career choice, offering educational and financial benefits. 

The services for years have drawn volunteers from a recruit pool that does not consistently meet military standards. Recruiters today routinely ask would-be service members to meet them in person, so as to assess, among other things, whether a recruit is overweight.

The retired flag officers want the Pentagon to lead a task force that finds a way to prevent the situations that bar potential recruits from serving in the military. 

The Mission: Readiness group asked Miller to stand up an advisory committee immediately in conjunction with the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice. 

"By working closely with this interagency task force, the Department can create a long-term strategy to address the biggest disqualifiers for military service and ensure that more young Americans are able to join the military if that is the path they wish to take," group leaders wrote. "We believe this is a critical step to the sustainability of the all-volunteer force and critical for our future strength and national security."

Although the military has been an all-volunteer force for more than 45 years, young American men are required to register with the Selective Service System in case of a nationwide call-up to arms.

All male U.S. citizens and immigrants aged 18-25 are required by law to register for a potential draft, according to the Selective Service.