27 October 2008

Military Recruiting

Selected Statistics on U.S. Military Recuits:

High School Graduates: Air Force 99%, Army 83%, All Services 92%
Top 50% on Armed Forces Qualification Test: Air Force 79%, Army 62%, All Services 69%

Percentage of Army jobs that are "combat related": 15%


The army used to have higher standards, but fear of combat and anti-war attitudes of many parents forced the army to lower the bar during the last five years. Improved selection and training methods kept army performance up. Note that most of the fall-off in recruits were for non-combat jobs. . . . Only the army had any problems recruiting during the war. For most of the last eight years, the air force and navy have actually been reducing their strength, and thus were able to be more picky when it came to new recruits. The marines are disproportionately a combat force, and one with a high reputation for being challenging and life-changing. They have no trouble getting the people they need. The navy provides most of the support services, including the medics who serve with marine infantry platoons.


The tip of the spear of the American military is thin. There are about 75,000 Army combat specialty soldiers. Add in the combat specialties in the Marines, and you still have remarkably few soldiers whose primary duty is engaging directly in ground warfare.

The military as a whole appears to be able to reject more than 55% of potential recruits with below average AFQT scores. If AFQT scores had a cutoff, it would be about the 28th percentile for the military as a whole, but higher for the Air Force and lower for the Army.

Most of the socio-economic edge that veterans have over the general population comes from excluding most high school dropouts and most very low performers on AFQT tests and other military qualification screens. This increases averages and medians on socio-economic measures, even though the military also has a quite low share of college bound young adults.

The post doesn't mention it, but a disproprotionate share of the drop in Army support job recruiting comes from the African American community.

The post also neglects the fact that retaining skilled personnel is difficult. The Air Force loses more than 30% of its best pilots despite signing bonuses for re-enlisting after eight years of up to $125,000. The Army is having trouble holding onto NCOs and officers with combat experience; some want out, while others are lured by big dollar contracts with mercenary contractors.

Efforts to lure military personnel from other service to the Army have also been largely unsuccessful, although the Navy and Air Force have both created units that mimic Army functions or support them. For example, the Navy has deployed "maritime patrol aircraft" (i.e. the P-3C) outfitted with new avionics, for reconnaisance missions in landlocked Afghanistan.

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