America's military is being increasingly squeezed by this country's dangerous epidemic of teenaged obesity. The commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command tells 1200 WOAI news that more than three quarters of all of the 17 to 24 year old men and women in America are currently not eligible for enlistment in the Army, mainly because they are overweight.
"The latest figures we have is 77.5% are disqualified for one reason or another," Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet said in an interview. "That means just 22.5% would be qualified."
He said prospective recruits disqualify themselves for three main reasons. One is what the Army refers to as 'morally disqualified,' meaning they have used or are using illegal drugs or have a criminal record. Number two are 'cognitive disqualifications,' meaning they are not educated enough to pass the Army entrance exam. But the third, and the most widespread, are physical disqualifications, which are mainly due to being overweight.
"Somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of young Americans are disqualified physically," Batschelet told 1200 WOAI news. "The trends indicate that in the next 15 years or so, that number will go up to 50%."
He says only about 8% of the 22.5% of young Americans who are physically, morally, or intellectually qualified for Army service are interested in enlistment, so the Army in 2014 will have to meet its enlistment goal of about 103,000 new soldiers out of a total available group of only about 550,000 17 to 24 year olds.
Batschelet is in San Antonio for Saturday’s Army All America Bowl, and he talked with 1200 WOAI news during a break in his schedule.
And he says there are other challenges to recruitment.
"Even though the Army is getting smaller, the economy is getting better," he said. "Our ability to recruit those qualified individuals is increasingly challenged."
He says with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the military is moving from attracting patriotic young men and women who want to protect and defend their country on the battlefield, to a cohort of people who see the Army as a tool of preparation for the increasingly rigorous career world ahead.
"It is more like 'what does the GI Bill do for me'," he said. "What are your health benefits like."
But Batschelet, who is an Iraq and Desert Storm veteran and has served in the Army since 1983, says the U.S. Military remains a 'destination of choice for America's 'best and brightest.'
"99.6% of our recruits today are high school grads," he said. "65% or more are in the top category of the Armed Forces qualification test, so well above the Department of Defense standard is 60% so we are well ahead of that. The quality of the young men and women who are choosing to join our Armed Forces is second to none."