I joined the Marine Corps in 1971. At that time when a young man joined the military he signed on the dotted line and went directly to basic training—what the Marine Corps calls “boot camp.” It was a sink-or-swim proposition. The military just assumed new recruits could withstand the rigors of basic training and, frankly, most of us could back then. Apparently things have changed, and not for the better. Today even the few potential recruits who are qualified for military service often must spend months working with their recruiter trying to get into good enough shape physically to complete basic training, get off of drugs, or complete a rehabilitation program for mental conditions that otherwise will make them unfit for military service. And then there are the tattoos. In an attempt to express their supposed individuality, many young people have covered their bodies with every kind of tattoo imaginable. Because the military is about teamwork not ostentatious individuality, so-called “body art” is frowned on can even be a disqualifier for military service.
In my youth, recruiters just assumed that most young men who joined the military would be able to withstand the rigors of basic training and become a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. In the majority of cases, this was an accurate assumption. At the time, young people were, as a rule, in fairly good physical condition. Drugs had not yet become the all-pervasive scourge they are now, and tattoos were something only sailors got after drinking too much. Of course, even back then enlistees typically came out of basic training in better condition than when they went in, but—nonetheless—most were able to begin basic training with a reasonable expectation of making it through.
In my youth, young people were not couch potatoes. We led active lives and were required to work. Too often these days, this is no longer the case. Not only can the typical American youth not make it through basic training these days, most are not even qualified to begin. It is a sad indictment of contemporary American society that more than 70 percent of today’s potential military recruits are precluded from enlisting because of physical, moral, or cognitive problems. According to Maggie Ybarra (The Washington Times, February 16, 2015), “The majority of potential Army reservists are either hooked on prescription drugs, have too many tattoos, are overweight or have mental conditions that prohibit them from joining the military.” Many also have criminal records relating to illegal drugs. According to an Army Reserve Spokesman, “Seven out of 10 applicants fail to meet Army Reserve standards for mental, moral or physical reasons.” Said another way, only 30 percent of potential military recruits are mentally, morally, or physically fit to serve in uniform and defend our nation from enemies “both foreign and domestic.”
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