- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Uncle Sam wants you,” that famous Army recruiting poster says. But does he really?

Not if you’re a Ritalin-taking, overweight, Generation Y couch potato — or some combination of the above. A tattoo also can be grounds for rejection.

The military does not actually want most of the people in its prime recruiting age group of 17 to 24.

Of the about 32 million Americans in this group, the Army deems the vast majority too obese, too uneducated or too flawed in some way, according to its estimates for the current budget year.

“As you look at overall population and you start factoring out people, many are not eligible in the first place to apply,” said Doug Smith, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command.

The Census Bureau estimates that the overall pool of people who would be in the military’s prime target age has shrunk as the U.S. society ages. There were 1 million fewer 18- to 24-year-olds in 2004 than in 2000, the agency says.

The pool shrinks to 13.6 million when only high-school graduates and those who score in the upper half on a military-service aptitude test are considered.

Other factors include:

• The rising rate of obesity. About 30 percent of U.S. adults are considered obese.

• A decline in physical fitness. One-third of teenagers are thought to be incapable of passing a treadmill test.

• A near-epidemic rise in the use of Ritalin and other stimulants to treat attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADHD). Potential recruits are ineligible for military service if they have taken such a drug in the previous year.

Other potential recruits are rejected because they have criminal histories or too many dependents. Subtract 4.4 million from the pool for these people and for the overweight.

Others can be rejected for medical problems, from blindness to asthma. The Army estimate has subtracted 2.6 million for this group.

That leaves 4.3 million fully qualified potential recruits and an estimated 2.3 million more who might qualify if given waivers on some of their problems.

The bottom line: There are a total of 6.6 million potential recruits from all members of the 32 million-person age group.

In the budget year that ended in September, 15 percent of recruits required a waiver in order to be accepted for active-duty services — or about 11,000 people of about 73,000 recruited.

Most waivers were for medical problems. Some were for misdemeanors such as public drunkenness, resisting arrest or misdemeanor assault — prompting criticism that the Army is lowering its standards.

This year, the Army is trying to recruit 80,000 people; all branches of the armed forces are recruiting about 180,000.

And about the tattoos: They are not supposed to be on your neck, refer to gang membership, be offensive or in any way conflict with military standards on integrity, respect and teamwork. The military increasingly is giving waivers for tattoos, officials said.

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