PHOENIX — The U.S. Army is having trouble recruiting the 80,000 new soldiers it needs this fiscal year because most people don't meet the requirements to join or are misinformed about the military, according to its chief recruiter.
"The biggest challenge right now is the fact that only three in 10 can actually meet the requirements to actually join the military," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command. "We talk about it in terms of the cognitive, the physical and the moral requirements to join the military, and it's tough. We have a very good Army; there's a desire to recruit quality into the Army."
Snow spoke about the issues Tuesday while in the Phoenix area to meet with recruiters and to address a gathering of local community and business leaders about their roles in helping to develop the nation's soldiers.
Snow's command is charged with signing 62,500 recruits for the Army and 15,400 for the Army Reserve in fiscal 2017, which runs Oct. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017.
Although there are many requirements that must be met in order for an individual to join, Snow said he doesn't believe changing or adjusting them would be beneficial because it would ultimately reduce the quality of the military.
"We don't want to sacrifice quality," Snow said. "If we lower the quality, yes we might be able to make our mission, but that's not good for the organization. The American public has come to expect a qualified Army that can defend the nation. I don't think the American public would like us to lower the quality of those joining the Army if they knew it's going to impact our ability to perform the very functions or nation expects us to do."
Rising obesity rates in the U.S. have made recruiting people especially challenging, but Snow said it's a societal issue that the entire country needs to address early on in order for it to improve.
"It really starts with something as simple as what our kids are fed in schools," he said. "Changing meals, I think, is one of the ways to address that, eating healthier food earlier. I think a second aspect to that is really working with those who work with the education department to emphasize the importance of not doing away with physical education programs in elementary school and high school, because that's important. Yes it's a challenge for us, but it's a challenge for our country."
In January, the Armed Forces will implement a five-part test to measure physical fitness, called the occupational physical assessment, to make sure male and female recruits will meet the physical requirements for the job.
Snow said myths and misconceptions about the military can discourage young people from joining.
"What the research tells us is that 50% of the youth today actually know very little about the military," he said. "They don't know the different types of services — the fact that there is an Army, a Navy, an Air Force and a Marine Corps."
Another misconception: All who join fight in combat. There are more than 150 different specialties and positions offered in the military, only some of which involve combat, Snow said. Since the Pentagon lifted a ban on women in combat in 2012, nearly 2,000 women have filled jobs that had been exclusive to men, he said.
He said that many aren't aware of the variety of benefits offered by the military, including guaranteed health coverage, life insurance and education benefits. Recently, Snow said, the Army has decided to implement a 401(k) retirement savings plan next year for anyone who serves, not just those who serve for 20 years or more, like the previous retirement system required.
Snow said he is confident recruiters will achieve their goal of signing 80,000 new recruits. If not, national security is unlikely to be affected unless recruitment dwindles over a number of years, he said.
"If there comes a point where young men and women are unwilling to raise their right hand and commit an oath to something bigger than themselves, yes, it could be a national security challenge," Snow said. "I would like to think that we will not face that day. Some say they're concerned that we may face that day, I am not seeing that. I have too much confidence in my team of recruiters, and I think the youth of today gets a bad rap."