Poor Quality Recruits Put Army at Risk

Article excerpt

Byline: BENEDICT BROGAN

THE Army's frontline units are at risk because of unfit and barely literate recruits, a Ministry of Defence report claims.

It paints a picture of wouldbe soldiers brought up on a culture of junk food, poor exercise and binge drinking who struggle to get through basic training.

The study makes grim reading for ministers who face a manpower crisis as the armed forces try to meet a growing number of overseas commitments.

Army volunteers are barely capable of coping with the demands of service life, it says.

And in a startling revelation, it warns that some recruits from Africa are spreading the Aids virus through the forces.

Its damning conclusion finds that in some cases 'quality is often sacrificed for quantity', with recruits sent to front line units who may be physically and mentally unfit for service.

The Conservatives last night called on Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to examine the findings urgently.

Defence spokesman Nicholas Soames said: 'This is a very damning report that raises some very serious issues.

'I'm writing to Geoff Hoon to find out as a matter of urgency what he intends to do about it.' The report, prepared by MoD director of operational capability Brigadier Mungo Melvin, expressed fears at the level of illiteracy among would-be soldiers. It found that two in three of the intake at the Army training centre in Catterick, North Yorkshire, had a reading age of 11 or younger last year.

It also singled out the ' unwelcome burden' of the binge drinking culture among trainees, and warned it caused poor discipline and decreased operational effectiveness.

The inspectors visited 12 defence training establishments, including Deepcut and Catterick, and interviewed more than 1,200 recruits and trainees and 307 commanders and instructors. Brigadier Melvin reported: 'A widely-held concern of the instructors at the majority of initial training establishments that we visited was that they were passing on risk to the front line. …