The Army is now exceeding its recruiting requirements, but that force may contain more soldiers who needed waivers to sign up in the years ahead, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.
But, he added, that may not be as bad as it sounds.
Each year, the Army recruits about 80,000 new soldiers who join an all-volunteer force that also includes sailors, airmen and Marines and is universally recognized as "a national treasure," Army Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt, deputy commanding general and chief of staff of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, told attendees at the 2008 Joint Warfighting Conference.
However, although the Army currently is exceeding its recruiting goals for active duty and reserve component soldiers, a looming recruiting crisis is on the horizon, Valcourt said.
"Today, seven out of 10 American citizens between the ages of 17 and 24 that are walking the streets of America can not quality for entry into our services without some form of a waiver, ... and that is a national crisis," the three-star general said. Prospects within that group, Valcourt said, require medical, physical or moral waivers to enter the military.
The Army has received criticism from some quarters, Valcourt said, because soldiers being enlisted today have twice as many waivers compared to soldiers who enlisted a year ago. Valcourt indicated such criticism may be misplaced, especially if someone wants to serve his or her county during wartime.
"If somebody has 'a little stain on their shirt' and they want to raise their hand and come serve their country in a time of war -- knowing not if, but when they are going to deploy in harm's way -- where would you rather them be?" Valcourt asked.
Such enlistees, he said, can benefit from Army training "under the watchful arm of one of our sergeants who is a professional at instilling values and discipline and taking care of business that hadn't been done in the last 18 years."
Another way to look at the waiver issue, Valcourt said, would be to thank the armed services "for giving those folks who may have a slight stain on their shirt an opportunity to come in our services and find their way to fulfill their call of duty and serve and protect our freedom."
Existing programs, such as the Junior ROTC, help young people to consider joining the military or to make it a career, Valcourt noted. There's also a new proposal being coordinated with the state of South Carolina, he added, to establish an Army preparatory school for young people without high school diplomas.
The bottom line, Valcourt said, is that the current recruiting environment for a volunteer force is what it is.
"And, the answer is not the draft," Valcourt emphasized, noting that his experience with a conscripted Army that ended in 1973 "was not a fun thing."
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service