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Official Debunks Myths About Military Recruits

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2005 – Recruits entering the military are head and shoulders above their contemporaries, and myths that imply otherwise reflect the Vietnam era, not today, a top Pentagon official told the American Forces Press Service.

"They are so clearly a cut above America," Bill Carr, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, said of today's recruits.

Carr bristles when he hears unfounded charges that the men and women entering the military are less educated, less affluent or less likely than other 18- to 24-year-olds to have alternatives to military service. Rather, a combination of volunteerism and commitment to service is prompting young people to enlist, Carr said, noting that a measure of shrewdness plays into their decision. "They are planning their future and considering what part we can play in it," he said.

Carr likes to think of himself as a "myth buster," helping break stereotypes he said are flat-out wrong and cheat servicemembers out of the pride they've earned and deserve.

He rattled off examples of those myths and set the record straight for each one.

  • Myth 1: Military recruits are less educated and have fewer work alternatives than other young Americans.
In fact, military recruits are far better educated than the general youth population, Carr said. More than 90 percent of recruits have a high school diploma, compared to about 75 percent of the U.S. youth population.

That's an important issue to the military, Carr said, because a traditional high school diploma is the single best indicator of a recruit's stick-to-it-ness and likelihood of successfully adjusting to military service. Recruits with a high school diploma have a 70 percent probability of completing a three-year enlistment versus a 50 percent chance for nongraduates.

The military has exceeded the 90-percent benchmark for recruits with high school diplomas every year since 1983, Carr noted.

  • Myth 2: The military tends to attract people with lower aptitudes.
Recruits actually have much higher average aptitudes than the general youth population, Carr said. In fiscal 2005, 67 percent of recruits scored above the 60th percentile on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The test is designed so that the average young person will score 50 percent, he explained.

But high achievement on the test isn't new, Carr said. Sixty percent of new enlistees have scored at or above the 50 percentile -- the military's benchmark for recruits -- every year since 1985.

  • Myth 3: The military attracts a disproportionate number of poor or underprivileged youth.
In reality, military recruits mirror the U.S. population and are solidly middle class, Carr said. He cited a recent Heritage Foundation report that shows most recruits come from middle-class families, rather than poorer or wealthier ones. Patterns in recent years reinforce this trend, showing a slight dip in recruits from lower socioeconomic groups and a slight increase from upper-class groups, Carr said.

  • Myth 4: A disproportionate number of recruits come from urban areas.
Inner cities are actually the most underrepresented area among new recruits, Carr said. Both suburban and rural areas are overrepresented, he said.

  • Myth 5: The military isn't geographically representative of America.

The southern part of the United States generates the most recruits, 41 percent, but also has the biggest youth population to draw from, 36 percent, Carr said. Twenty-four percent of recruits come from north-central regions, which have 23 percent of the youth population. The west, with 24 percent of the nation's youth, contributes 21 percent of the new enlistees. And the northeast, with 18 percent of the youth population, provides 14 percent of new recruits.

Clearing up misconceptions about military recruits paints a truer picture of the young men and women joining the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, and the capabilities they bring to their respective services, Carr said. It also reinforces what Carr said military leaders have recognized all along: "There's enormous talent in their midst," he said.

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