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The Army is struggling to get recruits, but refuses to lower its standards

Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army, listed Fort Leonard Wood on Wednesday and brought a message that the Army will not lower its standards even as it struggles to find recruits.
Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, at Fort Leonard Wood on Wednesday.

With less than three months left in its recruiting year, the Army has signed up only 40% of the new recruits it needs.

Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, said it needs to do more, but it will not lower its standards.

During a visit to Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood this week, McConville said low unemployment and inflation are making it more difficult for the Army to attract young people who are entering the workforce.

“We’re in a war for talent with a lot of the civilian companies that are out there trying to fill their ranks with young men and women. We just think we have something special to offer,” McConville said.

Adding to the problem is the number of enlistment-age people who can’t meet the Army’s standards.

According to the Pentagon, 71% of 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for the military, primarily because they are overweight, undereducated or have criminal records.

McConville said the Army has to go the extra mile to help people who are interested in serving to meet the minimum standards.

“We’re going to have to have a future soldier preparatory course. We’re not going to lower the standards. We’re actually going to get young men and women to meet our standards. And it’s going to cost more time, and it’s going to cost additional resources,” McConville said. “But it’s a worthwhile investment in the long run.”

In June, the Army suspended the requirement to be a high school graduate or have a GED, but the move was so unpopular and garnered so much criticism the Army suspended the policy with no comment after one week.

Recruits who signed up during that week were allowed to continue with their enlistment.

McConville said the Army needs to do a better job of telling all Americans what it’s like to be in the military and the benefits it brings. He said that includes creating more opportunities for civilians to spend time at military bases.

“We’re gated communities, which sometimes does not allow free access to the public,” McConville said. “I’m asking (commanders) to bring people who may be interested onto their post. Show them what a day in the life of a soldier is like.”

Fort Leonard Wood is planning such an event. The Back-to-School Meet Your Army Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 13. It will feature military vehicles, hands-on displays and demonstrations.

“83% of the young men and women that come into the Army are coming from military families,” McConville said. “Some would argue we’re a military family business; we want to be an American family business, where everyone has the opportunity to serve.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.