Military Standards Are Just “So Hard”

I am amused, to say the least.

The Pentagon has decided that they have a recruiting problem. The problem is that America’s young adults are too fat, tattooed and lack the education to be in today’s military. Ah, that brings back memories of my boot camp company commander screaming at our platoon. Not that any of us were fat or uneducated, but he liked to tell us we all were, at the top of his voice, at 3 am.

Ear GaugeSeriously, though, according to the Wall Street Journal a majority of our country’s youths are ineligible to serve in the military. The prime culprit is obesity, but our kids also have issues with not graduating from high school, having felony convictions, and ADHD. The recent grooming standards are also disqualifying a number of applicants. It’s not just the tattoos, either, piercings and ear gauges are disqualifying applicants.

When I was in high school, there was a kid a grade ahead of me that got in trouble with the law. The judge gave him a choice of jail or military service. I ran into him in the fleet a couple of years later; he was really trying to make something of himself. I suppose that back in the good old days of the 1980s, we needed as many sailors as we could get. We were building a 600-ship fleet at the time, and there wasn’t a lot of retention for underway rates.

Times have changed, there is no doubt about it, but turning away young people who want to serve seems a little self-defeating, in my opinion. Skills can be taught. Discipline can be instilled. Body weight and physical fitness can be brought into line with what the services need. When the U.S. did away with the draft in the 1970s, it was understood that the military would have to change, that the level of quality of their recruits would change. There are other options for our youth to pursue. Mandatory military service allowed the armed forces to be picky. So does a drop in their man-power requirements.

This country needs to take a look at what we are doing to our military and ask a couple of really good questions:

  • Will having too many, too big or too visible tattoos prevent this young person from having the drive and motivation to want to serve his country?
  • Why is the military no longer considered an honorable alternative to serving jail time for youth offenses?
  • What are we going to do when we need more soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines and we have turned away so many that the military doesn’t have the depth of personnel to fight a war, police action, or even have a tug of war contest with a Cub Scout troupe?

Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of this website. This author accepts all responsibility for the opinions and viewpoints in this article.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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23 thoughts on “Military Standards Are Just “So Hard”

  1. Matt, I am retiring from active duty in about a week and have been serving in a state army national guard unit (as an AGR). For the past nine years, I have been able to run past about 15-20% of the soldiers in my unit during APFT runs, and I have done this at age 48-57 years old. Younger people are not as dedicated to physical conditioning as maybe they used to be. I think the Army is getting more serious about enforcing standards as the recruiting goals are now substantially lower and they are starting to look hard at booting losers out. Our kids are fat and lazy and the President seems to support legal pot smoking – oh great! They will get even more lazy and fatter while they chew on munchies.

  2. Hi David;
    You have a good point, but how do we solve it? Do we make the standards so stringent that otherwise valuable soldiers and sailors can’t enlist? or do we change the culture inside the military to promote physical fitness and education? At this point, its easy to raise the standards and boot everyone who doesn’t meet them out, but if the day comes when we need more soldiers than we currently have, what do we do? We don’t have the draft and the political climate would never support reinstating it.
    One of my largest concerns, honestly, is that the harder we make it to get in the service, the harder it will be for the military to do the job it needs to be able to do.
    Now, don’t misunderstand me, I believe that there needs to be standards for getting into the service, but I think the Pentagon is using this standard to make personnel cuts and restrictions without considering all of the ramifications.

  3. Matt, I can only speak directly about the National Guard side of things as far as physical fitness goes. I was an AGR soldier (NCO) and we took APFT 2 times a year. We had other full timers who need only take a APFT that counted for re-enistment. The AGRs always had a significantly higher pass rate. I think when you set the standard high, people rise to meet the standard. As an AGR, I had to pass 2x a year to keep my position.

  4. Matt, a second point to make. I agree with you that due to significant cuts in our force structure, the military is raising the standards for enlistment. I object to the reductions in our force size. However, I feel that we could do a great job IF we change how we fight our wars/operations. Our casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have been due to operating in a defensive/occupy strategy mode. We go in and kick ass, then occupy and ride around in vehicles becoming sitting ducks for IEDs. I say we need to maintain a kick ass strategy – go in, clean house, then either leave or keep kickin ass. In our efforts to fight within very strict rules of engagement, I believe we have cost the lives and limbs of too many of our soldiers. I think America’s enemies have learned that they can take advantage of us. Conclusion: a smaller sized force would be ok IF they let us fight like we know how to.

  5. That point, historically, I am forced to disagree. The Army has spent much more time over their existence as an occupying force than as a battlefield presence. That IS one of their missions, and one of their main ones.
    I will agree that we need to redefine what it is to be an occupying force, but I fervently disagree that the Army should not be one.If we had not occupied Germany after World War II and maintained our presence there after our enemies had become allies, we might have lost all of Germany to the Soviets in the 50s. Occupation is a viable strategy and the Army is the only tool we have to make that strategy work.
    As I said though, instead of having an ‘exit strategy’ for drive-by warfare, we need to come up with a strategy that makes occupation work.

  6. I’m happy with maintaining a presence in countries like Germany, Japan, or other “friendly allies” but our history shows that maintaining a presence in countries where we are not or have not waged total war, we take far too many casualties. Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are three recent examples. The occupation of Germany after WWII kinda demonstrates my point about kickin ass in a big way. We also had sufficient troops to do it. The German people’s psychology was greatly altered from their defeat (they probably thought it impossible) and the revelations of the Nazi war crimes. Even our own history with British occupation shows how it doesn’t go well in the longer run. But it is doubtful that we, as a country, will fight wars the way we did in WWII. Even today, our Administration, media, and probably a great many citizens think Israel should halt it’s campaign to do to Hamas what it should – totally destroy them. People don’t have the stomach to tolerate what needs to be done.

  7. We can win the war, we need to learn to win the peace, again. Shattered infrastructure and an unarmed indigenous military does not make a friendly occupation. Germany, Japan, the Philippines (in the previous century), our own campaigns against the Native Americans and the rebellious Confederates were all examples of occupations that we successfully carried out. None of these populations wanted us there. Some still don’t, but we stayed the course and won the peace.
    Yes, war has fundamentally changed, there is good and bad in that, but going into a country, destroying the infrastructure and then leaving won’t win anything. Ever.
    If we are not willing to win the peace, winning the war is pointless. All three of your examples show how we could defeat the troops on the ground, but could not maintain the will to do what was necessary, no matter how long it took, to win the peace.
    We ‘occupied’ Germany for 50 years. In some ways we still ‘occupy’ Japan and South Korea. In those cases, after the war, we rebuilt the infrastructure, ensured democratic processes and elections, and took an interest in the continuing welfare of the country.
    If, as a country, we are going to embark on nation-building, which was what the US was trying to do in Iraq once the military goals were met, we need to have the fortitude to stay the course.
    If you are going to war for limited goals, you need those goals spelled out and followed. Occupying a country is at cross-purposes to those limited goals. Think the first Iraq War, Granada and Panama, for example. Go in, do the job and get the hell out.
    But don’t try to make the country free and democratic.

  8. Matt, you wrote, “All three of your examples show how we could defeat the troops on the ground, but could not maintain the will to do what was necessary, no matter how long it took, to win the peace.”

    Vietnam – militarily, we won most battles including the Tet Offensive. I remember Tet being portrayed as if we lost, when in fact we won. But North Vietnam kept coming back and fighting. The Air Force Linebacker campaigns brought them to seriously negotiate. Linebacker is when we took off the gloves and started kickin ass. But truth is the North was never totally defeated the way Germany was. Within 2 years of us leaving under duress, the North conquered the South.

    Iraq – (round 2) How many years did it take for us to get a good handle there? It wasn’t until Gen. David H. Petraeus got control, starting in the 2007 surge, and found a way to have the Sunnis literally “buy in” to the program. And one might ask, did we ever militarily defeat all our enemies there?

    Afghanistan – that country ain’t tamed! Have you not noticed how many American soldiers have died or been severely maimed in the last few years? Please, we haven’t won that “war” let alone the non-existant peace.

    I joined the Army to support war fighting, not babysitting. If I wanted to babysit, I could join today’s Border Control Agency!

  9. Sorry, I was referring to the first Gulf War, not the current one.
    My point is that as long as the objectives are military and short-term, everything is fine. Once those objectives change to long-term and nation-building, we have had a problem with ‘staying the course.’
    I understand your frustration with your desired versus actual role. If you are retiring to a border state, you might end up doing exactly what you don’t want to do.

    1. Matt, you have made some good points. If I have a “frustration” it is having to see too many good men and women badly injured and killed while serving in occupied countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Our folks have operated under severe rules of engagement and have been sitting ducks. I just retired and my focus will be on helping veterans. I don’t have time nor interest in babysitting illegal aliens at the border. It’s a crime that our “leadership” in Washington has not secured our borders.

  10. I’ve never seen anybody respond negatively to their sons and/or daughters after they joined one of the armed forces. Parents always seem proud with the “my son/daughter left as a boy/girl and came back as a man/woman” response. I don’t think that the standards of the military are too high. The youth of today doesn’t want to grow up; doesn’t want to mature; doesn’t want discipline; doesn’t want to be taught. It is now considered a norm for youth to disregard authority, question everything that isn’t considered “cool”, and put forth as little effort as possible, while expecting a reward for acting stupid, doing what they “want” to do, and being lazy. The standards of the armed forces have been around since well before most of the youth of today were even born. It is well known that education, physical fitness, uniformity, integrity, honor, and patriotism are required and expected, yet people still sat around all day getting piercings and tatoos, eating everything in sight, committing crimes, disrespecting the law and their parents, doing drugs, dropping out of school, and freeloading off of whatever aid they can while doing absolutely nothing to better the lives of themselves or anyone else around them. Yes people make mistakes, but you are supposed to learn from them, not wallow in them. No person or entity wants to invite misery, loss, and consequence to itself. Too many people join the military and expect it to conform to them. How obsurd! One gains the benefits of the whole when one becomes as the whole, not the other way around. The problem isn’t in the military, it’s before they got there. The problem is that the military is already laxed too much to still expect men and women of excellence. It’s the standard of our culture that is too low, not the standard of the military that’s too high.

  11. The US army needs to occupy every US high school and shove a nazi boot up the ass of these got dam pathetic scum you kindly refer to as kids. And take every got dam feminist ball-busting, man-hating, white-man-bashing bitch out back and draw and quarter the useless whore. We gotta stop this got dam punk-loving, s-for-brains-loving, f-up tolerating civilization, or we will cease to exist. Get your head out of your ass, white man. FYI: That was being polite.

    I was doing chores on the farm at 6:00am before school and from 4:00pm until 9:00pm after school – more than 40 hrs per week during the school year and more than 80 hrs per week in the summer, shoveling manure, bayling hay, picking rocks and potatos off the field (not cotton waist high), and still graduated National Honor Society, was All-Star every summer in baseball, and earned an engineering degree. You tolerate shit and you will get shit. Stop the madness.

    My brother was USAF and now sits at home disabled due to contact with our WMDs back in the 1980s. He worked 7 days/week and +12 hrs/day on his dairy farm in the 1990s, which was rendered unprofitable due to new world order corporate dairy farming with subsidized labor along the mexican border.

    This country had been gutted and is in-process of being obliterated by enemies you guys have yet to comprehend, but you can see the results, can’t you? And you even consider for one second of capitulating to these kumbaya crack-heads to lower your standards? I’m guessing you know what I think of that.

  12. I believe that the military standard should stay right where it’s at. During World War 2, men and youth had no problems getting into the service. Today’s youth are the ones downgrading, not the other way around. If we let the standards drop, we’ll lose some of our control. the tattoo rule is set there so that everyone look uniform. I’m sure the piecing rule is for the same reason. It doesn’t look as good if some of the people in formation have big loops in there ears or tattoos showing and others don’t. My response is no, the standards aren’t too high.

  13. Do you really care how far a drone operator can run? I don’t… In fact, I would rather he have 100,000 kills in the latest video game and has never run a mile in his life.

    Infantry? You better run. But I’m not sure if I care if they’re tattooed.

    I do believe, however, that tattoos and fitness should bar you from certain jobs, and even being able to achieve certain ranks. Especially when those jobs and ranks mean that you’re becoming part of the public face of the military sector.

  14. As a grandmother, I think we need to start teaching kids early on that there are consequences to every act. Let them know in middle school that doing things like tats or being lazy has its own price. Kids are exposed to so much bad stuff, so early that we need to expose them early on to what happens if they do. If only a few listen, then that might be more than now.
    If standards are lowered, what do they learn? It’s not just fighting the wars, it’s how they return after being in the service. What kind of adults do you want?

  15. When i enlisted in 1970 i swore an oath to protect the constitution against enemies foreign and domestic, if a man or woman can live by that oath then i could give a shit what they look like, if they can perform their duty with loyalty to this country and honor to the constitution then they are head and shoulders above the folks running our government at this time in our history.

    1. dude, I agree with the main point of your post. But I do have a slightly different take on it. If someone is dedicated enough to pledge his life in defense of our country, then I think they should be willing to sacrifice some hair, some tatoos, and some time to maintain excellent physical fitness standards. And from experience, those that do not find those standards a problem generally excel in the service. Those that are lax on physical fitness and grooming are generally found lacking in important other areas. Just sayin, that’s what I have observed over 20 years in Air Force and Army experience.

  16. Great comments!!
    However, a couple of quick points…
    1. There was a draft during World War II, unless you completely failed the medical exam you were in the army. They didn’t particularly care if you had tattoos, a criminal record or were overweight. The service would get you past those problems.Ear gauges weren’t a concern because that particular piece of jewelry wasn’t acceptable at the time.
    2. No one is talking about lowering enlistment standards, the military just raised them.
    3. I do not promote the further erosion of our personal liberties by this, or any government.

    What happens if, God forbid, we do get involved in another ‘escapade?’ The war in Afghanistan has dragged on for 14 years. Service members are doing multiple tours in country and the armed forces are downsizing to lower levels than we have seen since before WWII. If you bottom out the size of the military and then raise the standards to get in high enough where enlistment and retention rates suffer, what will be the net effect if we need to bolster the size of the services?
    Do we suspend the standards, at that point? Try to reinstate the draft? Hire civilian ‘security’ forces?

    1. I can agree with the sentiment i guess that the nations youth is on a fast track to excess, however, i disagree with the assessment that having a tattoo or criminal record should automatically disqualify you from service. My who family proudly served this country but it looks like i will not ever get that honor due to some poor choices i made when i was younger…i have been trying to enlist for the past decade and it seems like its one thing after another, just recently i was denied because of a tattoo i got when i was younger and is on the inside of my arm. I find it ironic however that right after appealing the dont ask dont tell policy the military policy makers see’s fit, in its infinit wisdom to raise entrance qualifications so high that only about 1 or 2% of the nations population can successfully pass straight from sign up to ship out…i also find it disheartening that for many of our nations youth the military was the only way out of bad home life or a way to make something of yourself. It seems counterproductive in the extreme to deny the very people that once made this country great! The ones who WANT to serve not just some racist ass piece of shit picking potatoes on a farm his family OWNS but the everyone…i also find it interesting that when the bullets start flying its all of a sudden ok to have felonies and tattoos and felony convictions but other wise its a white mans army or what have you…i feel sad for this country and where its heading if this is any indicator of things to come, when i was younger i was in the cap program which basically helped kids get into the service at officer level however due to some inappropriatness on the part of two of my fellow airmen it was shut down, during that time i got into trouble because i had no direction and my family wasnt around…that is the same for alot of todays youth, the military was always there in the past for people and youngsters especially now without that i fear for what the future may hold for disenfranchised youth who realize that there is nothing out there for them and that what they have been raised they’re whole life and taught to belive is actually true…that nobody wants them…how can we as american people where anyone can be anything if you work hard enough for it justify denying the same freedoms and principles that so many of our fellow patriots fought so bravely and died to uphold and protect? I find it sad that so many of you who have had the honor to serve can honostly sit there and support a system in which most if not all of you would not have had that opportunity, whilst watching it being stripped from your childrens fingers. I wonder at how having a tattoo can bar you from serving in the armed forces but being openly gay doesnt, idk but it all seems a little contrived and self defeating to me.

  17. I understand and agree with most of these responses. What a person is able to do should be more important than how that individual looks. But, there seems to be an erosion of personal pride which carries thru into all aspects of that person’s character. There’s a ‘looseness’ in today’s young people that I don’t see as a particularly good thing.
    Just an old grammie talking – – –

  18. We need to go back to the draft like it was, before President Carter stopped it. We just
    The military does not need people who can not met the standards of the Military.. They need to pass a drug test and be able to do the job assign to them. You do not need a college degree to be a rifleman or even finish high school All you need to be able to do is carry a heavy pack, a weapon and a battle load of ammo as well as be able to do a long force march and able to do your assigned task once you arrive There should not be anyone who has big ear rings and have things all over there body The military needs to get back to what it was in the early and middle 60’s when we had a draft. I can not understand how so many people are hurt in vehicles when they should be walking or being transported in a helicopter to the battle area. Military people should not be in country more then 1 or 2 times as the law of averages will catch up to them. When I went in most of the EM;s and officers had been in two wars as airborne troopers with 18 to 19 years and is killed in a war they were not trained for unless they were Island hopping during World War II. The military should not lower there standards just to get some people in the military. MSG E-8 AUS (retired) 11 Bush with over 30years of service! ,. . .

  19. Ok let me give you the side of a younger person that was denied joining because of some standards being descused. First tattoos, are you kiding me of my 4 uncles, my father and 2 aunts that are in the milatary all have tattoos but I will say all are covered when in uniform So the whole tattoo thing is bs. Second the piercing they can be taken out and for the gauges one of the things that keep me out are no where near as big as the picture in the post and could be taken out and most wouldn’t notice unless five feet in front of me but the enemy shooting at me doesn’t care about either of these things nor would they hinder me in my duties. Third laziness yes lots of young people are lazy but I also know older people that are so I don’t think its a age thing I think its a upbringing thing.
    Dude hit the nail on the head with his post.
    This country was founded on free thinkers,rebels of there time, and men who went against the grain so I understand when the older generation look at things younger people do that don’t make sense to them but the founding fathers were looked at the same way and when I or others young people who think like I do are laying in the mud next to you with our rifles defending this country you won’t be worrying about the holes in my ears or the tattoos I have just the fact we are on the same side defending a country we love that the politicians have let go to hell more then the lazy young people.

  20. Hello, im 20 years old, soon to be 21. My life is going no where fast and i want to make a change. My biggest mistake made as a young adult was gauging my ears. I had a decent job for a couple of years, but i lost it and since havent been able to find a job that could allow me to be as independent as I need to be. I want to make a big change and enlist into the US Navy. Im note than willing to get them stitched up so they close, but its going to cost me 2,000 dollars to do so. I’d cut them off myself but they said i wouldnt be able to enlist unless i got it done professionally. Im just looking for some help or any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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