Uncle Sam doesn’t want the fat, stupid and criminal?

Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam

I smelled something funky right away in Larry Littlefield’s post that includes the tiresome phrase “Youth of Today” in the title (so we know right away where this is going).  He’s gracious enough to qualify his finger pointing by suggesting that while the 70% youth are apparently too slack to be military material, it may not be ALL their fault:

So there you have the youth of today. They are starting out bankrupt in a bankrupt country. That’s what I was worried about before. In addition, a majority are stupid, fat, sick, addicted or criminals. But others are more socially engaged as citizens, and as Grimm [Dr. Robert Grimm, the Director of Research and Public Policy for the Corporation for National and Community Service] pointed out, those who are socially engaged as citizens, statistically, are far more active and healthy. I had heard that all the social indicators – from teenage pregnancy to drug use to high school graduation rates – had improved compared with 30 years ago when I was in high school, so the 70% figure came as something of a shock. It sounds like the uneven distribution of income and institutional collapses are just part of the problem. We have a personal collapse as well.

Can we back up a minute? Littlefield is concerned about this figure given by Lt General Benjamin C. Freakley (I love the surname), a recruiter for the U.S. Army. I suppose this guy has it tough right now, trying to defend a poor recruiting rate. If you were him, would you blame it on today’s youth being unattracted to the situations they see our troops facing (roadside bombs, “100 more years” in Iraq, high survival and amputee rate of injured troops), or would you blame the low signing rate on kids playing too much X-Box and eating too many Doritos?

A 2003 report by the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive and Sensory Sciences and Education (BCSSE ) called “Additutes, Aptitudes and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment” looked at a variety of factors in order to advise the military on how they may improve recruitment. NOTE: The date is important, as it is pre-Surge and may not reflect an even greater shift in attitude away from signing up for those fat military bonuses. The report says, for example:

In light of the September 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent terrorist threats to the United States, it seems unlikely to us that force sizes will be reduced in the near term from their current levels. We also do not see clear evidence of factors that would result in a significant increase in net force size.

Just keep that in mind.

So kids these days…in light of the competitiveness of college applications, the opportunities to learn just about anything on the internet, the creeping social advances towards multicultural awarenes that can put cracks in glass ceilings…..are they really less intelligent? Hard to believe. In fact, it turns out the military want to raise the testing bar as weapons technology becomes more advanced. They’d prefer recruits with computer experience.  From the report, it sounds like the BCSSE thinks the military should do what they promise in  ads that say, “The Army strengthens you, and your future, with expert training in one of over 150 different jobs for Soldiers on Active Duty and over 120 in the Army Reserve” by following the reports advice:

There have been few major changes in the occupational distribution of first-term personnel in the past 10 years, but future military missions coupled with advances in technology are expected to require military personnel to make greater use of technology.

Recommendation: We urge that the Services resist the notion that recruit aptitude and education targets must continue to be raised, and we recommend that they continuously review their performance requirements and the related training of new recruits to ensure that beginning knowledge gaps are filled when necessary and that unnecessary training is abandoned quickly. To the extent possible, training changes should be anticipatory, especially for new systems.

It also turns out that too many kids are too smart for the military, not too stupid. The report acknowledged the military recruiters’ goal of grabbing youth right out of high school, and posed the problem that, of the 4.5 million kids now growing up in the U.S., most have moms that spend a lot of time making sure they learn at home and in school. That inspires them to go to college, not basic training!

The socioeconomic characteristics of parents, such as their levels of educational attainment, have a large effect on the aspirations and decisions of youths, especially concerning higher education. Average levels of maternal education for teenagers have increased markedly and will continue to do so over the next two decades, a result of increases over time in educational attainment in the population. This is important, given the positive relationship between maternal education and the educational aspirations of youth….Within the next two decades, the majority of youth will be raised by mothers who have completed at least some college.

The proportion of young adults who have had one or more parents with military experience has fallen dramatically and will continue to fall in the coming years….Although the annual number of births has increased in recent years, children are increasingly raised by highly educated parents and by parents who have no direct experience with the armed forces, factors that are negatively related to interest in military service.

Then there’s the problem of the military not being all it’s cracked up to be. That can hurt recruitment and discourage those that took the bonus from coming back for more. Troops don’t reenlist as much as they used to, according to the report, but the surveys are new and there isn’t much historical data to determine why. The researchers offer this:

We reviewed data on attrition rates across the services at 6, 12, 24, and 36 months and observed that attrition rates at each of these points in time have consistently increased over the past 15 years….Personnel who are dissatisfied with their Service experience return to their home towns spreading word about negative aspects of military service, which makes the job of the recruiter much more difficult….the messages the military sends to its members also find their way to potential recruits, and vice versa. Also, the messages veterans pass along to friends and family members can either encourage or discourage enlistment.

May I offer some possible POST-2003 reasons of my own: Guantanamo Bay, Walter Reed and PTSD.

Still thinking we just have a lazy, slacker population of youth who don’t deserve the privilege of serving in the military? I don’t deny for a second that we have serious social problems to address involving obesity, sweetened beverages, McDonald’s, Wii as a substitute for sports and an continued propensity for marijuana to be condoned in spite of harsh first offender drug laws. I just ask writers like Littlefield to consider for a moment why he’s so shocked when he hears a military officer say 70% of our kids don’t “qualify” for service. Perhaps it isn’t because the’re unqualified, fat little horrors. Perhaps it’s because the military recruiter’s new tactic is to make military service seem elite and exclusive in an attempt to drive up his numbers.

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1 Comment

Filed under journalism, politics

One response to “Uncle Sam doesn’t want the fat, stupid and criminal?

  1. Wow Annie, what a great article!! I think that names don’t happen by accident, so Freakley could be juuuust the right name for that guy. 😉

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