Lots of interesting things going on today.
We'll start today by taking a look at some recruiting. Not ours - Russia. I reported here previously that the Russian Army never transitioned to an all-volunteer force after the Cold War. They still have conscription, which means the vast majority of the soldiers in Mother Russia today don't want to be there. These are the guys currently fighting in Ukraine.
On our side of the old Iron Curtain, we went all-volunteer in 1973 and have been ever since. Sometimes it's the "job of last resort", but sometimes it does attract the Best and the Brightest to what many see as a "higher cause". The military does maintain standards - there are physical requirements, and intellectual requirements, something measured by way of a battery of tests called ASVAB
. Score too low, and well - "thanks for trying".
But there is word that due to recruiting challenges in this day at age, the Navy is accepting recruits with the lowest scores now.
The Navy unveiled new guidelines Monday that allow the service to enlist thousands of sailors with entrance test scores that fall into the lowest aptitude percentile allowed by military standards as it faces a higher recruiting goal, according to a notice from Navy Recruiting Command reviewed by Military.com.
Under the program, the service can recruit and contract up to 7,500 prospective sailors this year who fall under what the military calls "Category IV" recruits, or high school diploma-holding applicants who score within the 10th and 30th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, or AFQT. Up to 20% of this year's active-duty enlisted pool could fall into the lowest allowable aptitude percentile.
The military has struggled with recruiting this year and, while it appears that the Navy is in calmer waters compared to its sister branches, namely the Army, the sea service squeaked by last year's active-duty enlistment goal by just 42 sailors. Now, it's been handed a goal that has been increased by more than 4,000 applicants, and the pressure to get prospective sailors to raise their right hand is high.
"As we continue to navigate a challenging recruiting environment, changing the AFQT requirement removes a potential barrier to enlistment, allowing us to widen the pool of potential recruits and creating opportunities for personnel who wish to serve," Cmdr. David Benham, spokesperson for Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, told Military.com via email Monday.
The notice, which was posted on social media and confirmed by the Navy, was effective as of Monday. Benham confirmed the service's previous and future recruiting goals to Military.com.
He emphasized that the AFQT is graded on a scale against other applicants and is a barrier the Navy wanted to remove to expand the applicant pool. It is "not the determining factor" for eligibility as long as the applicant has a high school degree and does not score below the 10th percentile on the test, Benham told Military.com in a follow-up phone call.
"There'll be folks that score 10 that also don't qualify for a rating and therefore they're unable to join," he said. "There's going to be folks who score 30 or 40 or whatever, but still don't qualify for a rating and therefore would be unable to join."
It is not known if that means that there are better opportunities outside the military, or if more are going to college, or if the current generation is simply not interested in serving. There are probably repercussions that won't manifest themselves immediately, but it probably doesn't bode well.
But wait - there's more! I'm sure most of us have been heavily vaccinated by now, and likely even boosted. The military continues to struggle with this.
There is a mandate among those who serve or want to serve, and that's affecting recruiting too. But I say, "who needs them". Unvaccinated soldiers are like friendly fire.
The COVID-19 vaccine mandate is contributing to the military’s recruitment troubles, the top general in the Marine Corps said on Saturday.
Speaking during a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger defended the vaccine mandate as a necessity for keeping the force healthy. But he indicated the mandate has posed problems for recruiting in pockets of the United States where vaccine misinformation is prevalent.
“Where it is having an impact for sure is on recruiting, where in parts of the country there's still myths and misbeliefs about the back story behind it,” Berger said.
Speaking to reporters at the conference later Saturday afternoon, Berger added that the mandate has posed an issue for recruiting in the South in particular.
“There was not accurate information out early on and it was very politicized and people make decisions and they still have those same beliefs. That's hard to work your way past really hard to work,” he said in response to a question from Military.com.
“Small areas, big factor,” he added when pressed about how much the mandate has contributed to recruiting issues. “You talk to me in the cafeteria, and one of my first questions is, ‘Do I have to get that vaccine?’ And you go, ‘Yeah, you do.’ Ok, I’ll talk to you later. It's that fast.”
The military has faced a recruiting crisis over the last year as it tackles the twin difficulties of increasing numbers of Americans unqualified to serve and decreasing numbers of those who are qualified being interested in serving.
One Pentagon study found that only 23% of young Americans would be eligible, pointing primarily to obesity and minor legal infractions related to things like marijuana use as precluding the vast majority from putting on the uniform.
The Marines hit their recruiting goal in fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, but had to dip into their pool of delayed entry applicants to do so, meaning they’ll have more difficulties meeting the goal in the future.
But speaking of disease - it's not just people. The United States Army still has horses - primarily for ceremonial duties. There's a unit in Washington, DC called "The Old Guard" that has seen four horses die under questionable circumstances
over the last few months. Given the lengthy history of the cavalry, you'd think we'd know how to take care of horses by now - but the story indicates that the poor beasts have been mis-treated.
Four military working horses in the Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, have died since February including two since October, a string of deaths that follows an investigation into how horses are treated by the unit.
Two of the horses died within about a month of each other -- the latest occurring a day after Thanksgiving. The first pair of deaths occurred within 96 hours of each other in February.
Those first deaths led to a wave of public and congressional attention at The Old Guard and the way it treats its herd, specifically after CNN reported that they were living in small, unsanitary lots, consuming low-quality feed and suffering from parasites -- issues that the unit said it has attempted to remedy.
The Old Guard told Military.com on Friday that the most recent deaths are unrelated and also not connected to deaths in February, but a spokesperson for the unit said that the number of equine deaths that occurred this year is "not common." Previous members of the unit also said that four successive deaths -- three of which appear to be related to gut conditions -- are worrying.
"It's alarming to me," Eugene Burks Jr. told Military.com on Friday. Up until his retirement this summer, Burks was the Caisson platoon's equine facilities and equipment manager and leathersmith for over 20 years; he also spent years in the unit as an enlisted soldier, adding up to roughly four decades of experience with the herd. "I have never, ever experienced this amount of horses going down," he said.
Rio, a 19-year-old horse, died on Oct. 24 and Rambler, a 14-year-old horse, died a month later. Both were euthanized by veterinarians as a result of their ailments.
The horses belonged to a unit within The Old Guard called the Caisson platoon, a specialty element tasked with carrying fallen service members to their final resting places at Arlington National Cemetery. There are roughly 60 horses in the platoon at any given time.
Roughly half of the horses in the unit were over 20 years old -- or geriatric -- as of April.
Military life is sometimes not easy - while men and women do choose to serve, animals do not have that choice.
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