The Percentage of Americans Who Qualify to Join the Military

by Thomas Metcalf

The Uncle Sam Wants You is the iconic poster that dates back to World War I. Today, it may not be clear exactly who Uncle Sam wants. As the military has become more high-tech, it is increasingly selective in its recruiting. The problem, however, is with the shrinking pool of eligible candidates. Uncle Sam needs soldiers, but he does not want everyone. In fact, only a quarter of the pool of 18 to 24-year-olds are eligible.

Joining the Military

If you wish to enlist in the military, the steps are straightforward. You start with a visit to your local recruiter to take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test to determine which branch of the military and which career track best suits you. The next step is to pass the physical examination, which measures height, weight, hearing, vision and strength. You are also tested for drugs and alcohol. When you pass the fitness test, you select your branch and career field, take the oath to uphold the Constitution, and head off to boot camp. Not everyone goes to boot camp – many fail to meet the requirements and they go home.

Disqualifying Factors

According to military sources, 75 percent of the 17 to 24-year-old demographic group from which the military draws its recruits are ineligible for a variety of reasons. Ritalin, a commonly prescribed drug for ADHD, can disqualify a volunteer if taken within the previous year. Illegal drug use will disqualify a candidate, too. Tattoos can knock you out of contention if they are visible above your neckline, contain gang references, are obscene, or conflict with military standards. Misdemeanors on your record are probably okay, but felonies may disqualify you. Too many dependents keep you out of the military, as will some medical conditions.

Physically Unfit

Obesity is a major factor in why volunteers are rejected by the military services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the two decades from 1987 to 2008, the obesity rate for the 18 to 34-year-old age group virtually quadrupled, going from 6 percent to 23 percent. Twenty-seven percent of the potential volunteers for military service cannot join because they are physically unfit. Approximately 15,000 volunteers fail to meet physical requirements every year because they are too fat.

Lack of Education

Many in the 18 to 24-year-old group lack sufficient education to serve in the military. Across America, 25 percent of students fail to graduate and in many cities the dropout rate is in the 50 percent range. Though you can get a waiver with a GED and a good score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, there is no guarantee. Even with a high school diploma, 30 percent of potential candidates fail the AFQT.

About the Author

Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.

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