Journal editorial claimed military met recruitment goals because "troops believe in mission," ignored lower aptitude requirements for new soldiers

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

A Wall Street Journal editorial asserted that the Army's achievement of exceeding its goal of recruiting or retaining 80,000 troops for fiscal 2006 demonstrates that "many troops believe in the mission." But the editorial omitted the fact that the Army exceeded its goal by "recruit[ing] more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year," according to an AP report.

An October 11 Wall Street Journal editorial (subscription required) ignored a primary reason for what the Journal described as the "impressive recruitment and retention for the armed forces" in fiscal 2006, which was recently announced by the Department of Defense (DoD). The Journal asserted that the recruitment numbers "speak to patriotism" and demonstrate that "many troops believe in the mission." While it stated that "[c]ritics of the Iraq war" will note that the "Army had raised recruits' maximum allowable age to 42 from 35" and that the military offered significant "cash bonuses" to reach recruitment goals, the editorial dismissed these "complaint[s]," writing that only "a tiny fraction -- maybe 500 -- of new soldiers" are over 35, and that "the military would be derelict to not offer competitive incentives to get the best young Americans." But the editorial omitted the fact that the Army "beat its goal of 80,000 recruits," by "recruit[ing] more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year," according to an October 10 Associated Press report.

On October 10, the DoD announced that it had exceeded its goal of 80,000 troops for Army recruitment and retention for fiscal 2006. As the Journal editorial noted, the DoD recruitment announcement was "in contrast to 2005, when the Army fell about 6,600 recruits short of its goal of 80,000." But while noting that the military raised its "maximum allowable age to 42 from 35" and that the military offers "cash bonuses" as a way to increase recruitment numbers, the editorial did not note that, according to the AP, 2,600 troops were added "under new lower aptitude standards" in which "3.8 percent of the first-time recruits scored below certain aptitude levels." By contrast, "in previous years, the Army had allowed only 2 percent of its recruits to have low aptitude scores." The AP added that the "limit" of recruits scoring below the aptitude levels "was increased last year to 4 percent, the maximum allowed by the Defense Department." Reuters also reported that "[t]he Army accepted 2,650 recruits who scored in the lowest permissible category -- from the 10th to 30th percentile -- in a standardized aptitude test. The Army last year doubled the percentage of recruits it is willing to accept from this category." Because the Army recruited 80,635 soldiers in a year when its goal was 80,000, without the 2,600 troops who did not meet the previous standard, the Army once again would have failed to meet its recruitment goals.

From the October 10 AP article:

The U.S. Army recruited more than 2,600 soldiers under new lower aptitude standards this year, helping the service beat its goal of 80,000 recruits in the throes of an unpopular war and mounting casualties.

The recruiting mark comes a year after the Army missed its recruitment target by the widest margin since 1979, which had triggered a boost in the number of recruiters, increased bonuses, and changes in standards.

The Army recruited 80,635 soldiers, roughly 7,000 more than last year. Of those, about 70,000 were first-time recruits who had never served before.

According to statistics obtained by The Associated Press, 3.8 percent of the first-time recruits scored below certain aptitude levels. In previous years, the Army had allowed only 2 percent of its recruits to have low aptitude scores. That limit was increased last year to 4 percent, the maximum allowed by the Defense Department.

The Army said all the recruits with low scores had received high school diplomas. In a written statement, the Army said good test scores do not necessarily equate to quality soldiers. Test-taking ability, the Army said, does not measure loyalty, duty, honor, integrity or courage.

From the October 11 Wall Street Journal editorial:

Critics of the Iraq war often slam the Bush Administration for sending unwitting American soldiers off to an unwinnable battle. The question is: On whose behalf are these concerned folks speaking?

Not the military, judging from the impressive recruitment and retention numbers for the armed forces just released by the Defense Department. The Pentagon announced yesterday that in fiscal 2006 the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all met or exceeded active-duty recruitment goals. More impressive, the number of active duty servicemen who re-enlisted exceeded the DoD's goals in every area. Looks like many troops believe in the mission enough to willingly return to a difficult battlefield.

As much as these numbers speak to patriotism, they also say something about the Defense Department's efforts to modernize its recruitment and retention program. This year's achievements are in contrast to 2005, when the Army fell about 6,600 recruits short of its goal of 80,000. Since then, services have added recruiters, revamped advertising and made a greater effort to reach out to the families of potential or acting servicemen, as spouses and relatives often help with decisions to enlist or re-enlist. The retention numbers are particularly important for the Pentagon because these experienced servicemen train the next generation.

Critics took an immediate swipe at the new numbers, arguing that the Army had raised recruits' maximum allowable age to 42 from 35. Yet it turns out a tiny fraction -- maybe 500 -- of new soldiers fall into that category.

The other standard complaint is that the military meets its goals because it offers cash bonuses. But these youngsters had a choice in FY 2006: The military's recruitment success took place in a period of strong economic growth that offered young people ever greater civilian job opportunities. Anyway, given how fierce the competition is for talent, the military would be derelict to not offer competitive incentives to get the best young Americans.

Many of those young people, despite the luxury of choice, have decided to ship off to boot camp and join the world's finest all-volunteer military force. It'd be nice if a few more politicians and pundits respected their decision.

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