Breaking News:  High School diploma not needed for America’s Military

U.S. Army announced it is dropping a long-standing requirement for a high school diploma or GED for volunteers. Recently, the military services have been having increasingly difficulty meeting their recruiting goals, but 2022 is likely going to be a recruiting disaster. 

Bottom Line. Dropping the requirement for a high school credential is a big deal.  It isn’t so much the piece of paper, it is what it represents.  Completion of high school has proven to be a reliable predictor of whether an individual has the resiliency to complete basic training and an initial tour of duty.  The Army’s decision to forgo that important standard says a lot about the depths of this crisis. Accepting unqualified recruits will dramatically increase the cost of providing trained and ready forces. 

Assessment.  According to Tom Spoehr who serves as director of Heritage’s Center for National Defense:

(a) The Army has only three months left to make the remaining 60 percent of their recruiting mission. In recent months they have offered new incentives including 2-year enlistments and bonuses of up to $50,000 but these measures have yet to turn the tide.

(b) What’s causing America’s youth to turn away from military service? It’s a perfect storm of factors.  The low unemployment rate provides increased employment options for youth.  Each year less and less American youth qualify for service, now that percentage is less than ¼ of young people age 18 to 24 based on surging rates of obesity and mental health issues.  Further, the great confidence that Americans have long held the military is slipping;  the Afghanistan fiasco, the perceived politicization of the military, or more generally, a diminished sense of public service, less and less young people express a desire to serve their country.

(c) This is only one of many disturbing markers suggesting Washington is not taking this issue seriously. See, for example,

https://www.heritage.org/defense/commentary/military-readiness-takes-back-seat-wokeness-the-pentagon

A recent effort to “draft our daughters” for example had nothing to do with readiness or manpower. See…

https://www.dailysignal.com/2022/06/15/dont-draft-our-daughters-or-anyone-else/

There are potential solutions if we have the will to employ them, and that doesn’t entail a return to conscription. 

What’s Next? This issue has long term implications for great power competition. This administration has not been a good steward of ensuring trained and ready forces or policies consistent with the imperative of “peace through strength.” While there appears sufficient will in the Congress to adequately support the military to prevent a return to the “hollow” force of the 1970s, there are legitimate concerns that current policies are inadequate to deal with global challenges like China, Russia, and Iran.

The 2023 edition of the U.S. Index of Military Strength (October 2022) should be a good indicator of the scope of the challenge. Meanwhile, we have proposed a family of ways to address the issue of manpower readiness. (https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/improving-americas-long-term-military-recruiting-outlook

James Carafano

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges. He is the Vice President of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. Carafano is an accomplished historian and teacher as well as a prolific writer and researcher.

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