Marching toward the 21st Century: Military Manpower and Recruiting

By Mark J. Eitelberg; Stephen L. Mehay | Go to book overview

13
Looking Ahead: The Shape of Things
to Come

Mark J. Eitelberg and Stephen L. Mehay

In the summer of 1993--20 years after America summoned its last draftee to arms--there was some talk that the military may no longer be such a "great place to start" for many young people. Reports circulated widely in the news media that the armed forces had suffered "a decline in the quality of new recruits, long predicted by anxious service officials." 1 Indeed, the military experienced a modest drop in the proportion of new recruits who scored "above average" on the enlistment test as well as a downturn in the share of high school graduates. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, in a commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy, called it a "warning sign" of what may lie ahead. 2

At the same time, full-page advertisements appeared in the nation's major magazines, telling prospective recruits that "although the military is getting smaller, the Armed Forces still need to recruit almost 400,000 young men and women each year." 3 And in an adjoining, open letter from General Colin L. Powell, readers were informed that "today's Armed Forces are still a smart option for young men and women to consider as they earn a high school diploma."

Skeptics protested that the apparent slide in recruit quality was minimal at worst; that the armed forces may not even need the high levels of quality they have been seeking and taking; and that the announcement of the so-called slippage in military recruiting coincided suspiciously with ongoing reviews of the Defense Department budget by Congress. Still, there was no denying that the quality of new recruits had dipped, even as the economic recession persisted and the military continued to shrink. Coming on the heels of similar results in the preceding year, it had all the earmarks of a trend.

How could this have happened? Since 1986, the military has reigned as America's "most-trusted institution" in all but one Gallup survey--sitting well ahead of the church/organized religion, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, and Congress. 4 Public confidence in the military soared during Operation Desert Storm and its aftermath, as the nation heaped praise and appreciation on America's gallant warriors. Some of the military's manpower planners envisioned endless lines of eager applicants--the same kids who collected Desert Storm trading cards and played "Battle in the Gulf" games on their video--ready to take the oath at

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