- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2018

The number of Americans qualified for military service is dropping, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis warned late Wednesday, citing drug abuse, obesity and a lack of “morals” as key reasons why nearly three-quarters of young people can’t meet the minimum requirements.

“We are no longer receiving people from the society who are as much in step with the qualities that our institution must have for success on the battlefield,” Mr. Mattis told reporters Wednesday, following his address to Air Force Academy graduates in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The military for years has struggled with a declining pool from which to pull its recruits, but Mr. Mattis made clear the problem is getting worse.

“More than 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-old males and females cannot qualify to be a private in the Army. … I’m told it’s 72 percent, it’s unfortunately going up,” he said.

“This is combination of illicit drug abuse, illicit drug use, obesity is probably the biggest one, morals, you know, just arrests, that sort of thing and there are other reasons,” he continued, adding academic failings as another major factor.

There are roughly 34 million Americans between the ages of 17 and 24. Of those, about 24 million are ineligible to serve, according to a recent report from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“This is an alarming situation that threatens the country’s fundamental national security,” the February study said, quoting military recruitment leaders who, like Mr. Mattis, suggested the situation is getting worse.

At the same time, Mr. Mattis said the military will not close its doors to those who have made mistakes.

“We don’t want to get to the point where we’re refusing anyone a chance to get back on their feet,” he said.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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