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Less than 30% of young Americans qualified to serve, Marine Corps commandant tells Congress

General Robert Neller spoke to Congress today about challenges in military recruitment. (Photo credit: TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Breck Dumas

In a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing today, Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller told Congress that the military is facing continued challenges in finding qualified recruits.

“It’s a strategic issue that less than 30 percent of the young men and women of our nation are qualified just to join the military, either because of physical, mental or moral issues” the general said. “So now we’re down to 30 percent and now we have to find those that have a propensity or are interested in doing this.”

The military has been facing such recruitment difficulties for years, citing rising obesity rates as a contributing factor. While easing enlistment standards has been considered by the Pentagon in the past, many commanders do not agree with such an approach.

“We don’t want to sacrifice quality, “said Major General Jeffrey Snow when speaking on the issue in late 2016. “If we lower the quality, yes we might be able to make our mission – but that’s not good for the organization. The American public has come to expect a qualified Army that can defend the nation. I don’t think the American public would like us to lower the quality of those joining the Army if they knew it’s going to impact our ability to perform the very functions our nation expects us to do.”

A recent budget deal signed by President Trump included significant increases in defense spending, which the president campaigned on. In announcing his signing of the bill on Twitter, the president said “Our Military will now be stronger than ever before. We love and need our Military and gave them everything – and more. First time this has happened in a long time. Also means JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!”

General Neller expressed his pride in the current state of the Marine Corps, and optimism in keeping seasoned service members in the force. “On retention, I was concerned about that last year because for the first time we were really struggling to make our numbers, to keep folks, particularly in our senior enlisted,” he told the committee. Neller noted that so far, retention figures for 2018 are on track, saying “because we had an appropriation, we had money for bonuses, even with the economy being what it is, we’re keeping qualified folks and some of the very best.”