The United States Marine Corps Commandant told Congress on Thursday it was becoming difficult to find qualified candidates for military service because so only about 30 percent of recruits measure up.
General Robert B. Neller told the House Appropriations Committee that while recruitment of qualified individuals has been difficult, he believes that "this is a really good Marine Corps."
"So, I think we're all aware that, you know, in the nation, I mean, it's a strategic issue that less than 30 percent of the young men and women of our nation are qualified just to join the military, either because of physical, mental or moral issues."
Reasons for candidates to be ineligible include those who are obese, those who lack a high school degree or GED equivalent, those taking prescription drugs for ADHD, and those with some types of tattoos and ear gauges. Some of those requirements can be waived for an otherwise qualified applicant according to officials.
With the pool of talent already small, Neller said it's becoming even more difficult to find people who are interested in joining in the first place.
"So now we're down to 30 percent and now we have to find those that have a propensity or are interested in doing this.
At least 99.7 percent of those people who join the Marines, do so right after graduating high school. And despite the difficulties recruiting, Neller said the Marine Corp achieved its targeted recruitment numbers.
'On retention, I was concerned about that last year because for the first time we were really struggling to make our numbers, to keep folks, particularly in our senior enlisted ... This year, we're on track to make it."
One of the biggest problems with recruitment? Alcohol abuse, a problem Neller says, is due to the inexperience and youth of the Marine Corp which is made up of 62 percent of people who are 25-year-old or less.
Neller says the qualified candidates they do find are incredibly smart, having grown up in the digital age with the internet and social media.
'Social media and the things that happen on social media affect them in different ways. I'm not a psychologist, but -- but this is a really good Marine Corps.
So, they're really smart. They're -- they have a different expectation. They're digital natives. Social media and the things that happen on social media affect them in different ways. I'm not a psychologist, but -- but this is a really good Marine Corps. And I could tell you about the Marine Corps I joined in 1976 and I don't want to be in that Marine Corps; not that there weren't good Marines, but I like this Marine Corps a lot better."
On retention, I was concerned about that last year because for the first time we were really struggling to make our numbers, to keep folks, particularly in our senior enlisted. This year we're -- we're on track to make it. So, whatever happened I think -- I think there was -- because we had an appropriation, we had money for bonuses, even with the economy being what it is, we're keeping enough qualified folks and some of the very best.
So, there are some behaviors -- I mean, I could show you the stats and -- I don't want to take up all the time. I will tell you, though, the one stat that consistently goes down, the number of people that are -- that are involved with illegal drug use. That number continues to go down every year, which is good.
We do struggle -- like all young people, we struggle with alcohol and certain behaviors, because 62 percent of the Marine Corps is 25 years old or less. So, I -- we have the blessing and the curse of youth and all the good things that youth brings and sometimes it is -- we're trying to make these young men and women grow up.
So, we watch this. I'm content with the force. We can always get better. But I think that you -- I mean, if you've traveled around and seen them, I think everybody would be eminently proud of the young men and women that wear the uniform of any service in the United States military.
Neller closed with a reminder for the subcommittee that as they were speaking at least "34,000 Marines are forward-deployed, some in harms way, all engaged doing just what you expect them to be doing."
People who wish to join the Marines are advised to get in shape before joining so they can pass the basic training tests.
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