"The Best of the Best of the Best" is a line from one of the funnier scenes in the original "Men In Black" movie with Will Smith. Shortly after, another classic one-liner is delivered by "Zed", "You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training". I really like that movie, but really hate that line as it is an all too accurate depiction of most civilian's opinions of our military.
Once upon a time, joining the military was the option of last resort. If you couldn’t get into or didn’t want to go to college, you were told to join the military to learn a skill. For a period of time, some joined because it was the only way to avoid jail; that was called “Military by Judge”. But those days are over with the tightened standards currently in place.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in February that by 2015, the Army will reduce it’s active duty strength to 490,000. With the current budget cuts of December 2013 in place, that number will fall to 440,000, the smallest force since prior to WWll. Consider the total US population of 1940 of 132.2 million, and the current population of over 318 million to put that 440,000 in context.
What this also means is the Army as well as the other branches can be much more selective in who they admit.
“"All this belt-tightening has caused the Department of Defense to chase after the same successful, highly motivated high school graduates that everyone else is chasing," said Mike Byrd, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an instructor for Van Horn High School's Junior ROTC program”, according to a May 13, 2014 article on Military.com.
So, what does it take to be accepted into the military of today and tomorrow?
Each branch of service is slightly different, with different thresholds, but there are some absolutes. Like tattoos on the hands, forearms, lower legs neck or head according to new rulings released this year. Or ‘gauges’ in your ears, which recruiters check by literally shining a light at your ears; if light comes out the other side, you’re done. Convictions for drugs, even juvenile misdemeanors with very few (and this year, fewer still) exceptions also disqualify candidates. Convictions for nearly anything, without really, really special circumstances will also get you shown the door at the recruiters office.
Once you pass those basics, then there is the Army Physical Fitness Test. Technically, you must meet the minimums to graduate Basic training, with a higher score required for AIT, or Advanced Individual Training. In reality, if you cannot pass those tests prior to enlistment, recruiters will give you a workout schedule until you can before accepting the candidate.
There are also weight requirements. Again, they are slightly different for each branch but a good rule of thumb is that a Body-Mass Index score of 25% or lower is required. With the current obesity epidemic amongst 17-23 year olds, that one qualification is not met by 2/3 of the age group.
Next up is the AFQT, or Armed Forces Qualification Test. This is comparable to the SAT, meaning each branch of service (like each college) has minimum score requirements. For example, the Air Force requires a minimum score of 50, though if you only have a GED, the minimum will be 65. More than 25% of high school graduates cannot meet the minimum score of 31 for any branch of service.
Once you have met this qualification, it is on to the ASVAB, or, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Higher scores on this test determine what options for career paths, or MOS (Military Occupational Specialties) are open to a recruit. Even if you are entering the military post-College, you will need to take this test as it functions as part entrance exam, part placement exam.
For those who have never broken the law, graduate high school and have not elected to permanently decorate their faces, necks or other body parts visible with long sleeves and long pants on, this doesn’t sound like much. The fact that approximately 75% of all 18-24 year olds cannot meet these requirements, though, should tell you a lot.
Still, the myth persists that the military is for those who have no other options, cannot get into college or cannot get a job. In other words, you don’t have to be very smart to shoot a gun.
The truth is that approximately 89% of everyone in the military functions in a support role to that small percentage who shoot guns at the enemy. There are almost no careers in the civilian world that do not have a counterpart in the military. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, electricians, computer programmers, and electricians are just a few of the professions with identical military counterparts, and identical educational requirements. There are also administrative clerks, mechanics, food service workers and cooks, as well as highly specialized professionals in medical, research, nuclear and other cutting edge fields.
Recently, I saw an interview with a group college-age kids. These were students at a competitive university with a decidedly liberal bend. Of course, they sneered at those whom they considered intellectually inferior who had to join the military because they weren’t good enough to get into a decent college.
In the group were two who, with a gun to their head, could not pass the physical fitness test due to a few too many hours spent sampling the delicacies of fast-food chains. Another was sporting the kind of body decorations that will ensure exclusion from most of the corporate world. Still another had the pallor of a vampire and the physique of an anorexic twelve year old and didn’t look strong enough to carry his own book bag. And not one of them could accurately name all 50 states on a map, say how many amendments there are to our Constitution or name their own elected officials.
I wonder what their reaction would have been had they been told that the AFQT is comparable to the SAT. I assume they all would have met that one requirement, but I would have enjoyed informing them that despite their perceived intellectual superiority, none of them would be accepted into any branch of the military.
For those who still think the military is all brawn and no brains, even for acceptance into a combat or infantry unit, here is a link to an ASVAB AFQT Practice Test. Just like the SAT, this a percentile test, and actual scores are calculated using a specific formula. The basics are, the Verbal Expressions score times two, plus the Mathematics Knowledge plus Arithmetic Reasoning raw scores (Vex2+MK+AR), the total of which is compared to a standardized chart.
Anyone with a score lower than 31 will not qualify for any branch of service in any MOS. Those scoring between 31 and 49 will have to significantly surpass all the other requirements to qualify. With the current force reductions and sequestration, the word on the street is, if you don’t score above 65, you may as well forget about the military.
As one recruiter said, when there are only so many open spots, we need to be sure we are filling them with the best candidates. Our military is getting smaller, so each and every recruit needs to be better. Gone are the days when practically anyone with a pulse and the ability to maintain their own body temperature would be accepted. Sadly, with today’s youth, there is an ever smaller pool to fish from but on the other hand, there is once again real pride about being accepted into the military. Our standards are now higher than they have been in the 40 years since we’ve had an all-volunteer force.
If it seems I’m a bit defensive and testy, that is because I am.
When less than one half of one percent of the population serves, most civilians really have no understanding what the military is all about. Ignorance is forgivable, but arrogance is not. I applaud the return to higher standards but am not happy with the reasons it has been required. I’m looking forward to a time with this society once again understands that our military does represent our best and brightest. And treats them accordingly.
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