The Consequences of Lowering Military Recruiting Standards, from a former Commander’s Perspective
The American military in which I served for twenty-eight years continues to struggle to meet recruiting goals. I am not surprised. The Biden administration’s ongoing pursuit of ‘progressive’ (regressive) policies comes at a hefty price that cannot be ignored. The problem is so bad they are resorting to lowering recruiting standards to meet the need. This is abnormal for an American military that is not at war. The last time the military’s standards were reduced like this was at the height of the dual conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had a front-row seat to the consequences of lowered standards, both as a commander in combat zones and as a trainer.
Are We at War?
Again, we are not at war; or are we? I would say we are in a war, but an internal one over the future of our own country. The military is part of that war, and we should not be experimenting with readiness, but we are, to our shame. The military serves one purpose, to win our nation’s wars. It should not serve as a giant laboratory for ideological indoctrination. The price of failure is too high.
America’s military is a cultural microcosm of our society. Big city kids from Los Angeles, farm kids from the mid-west, black-brown-red-white, each with their own motivations for joining. Some join for college money, some for adventure, others to escape a previous reality, and many to fulfill a desire to serve the nation they love. The attacks on servicemembers by their own chain of command seem to be intentional and designed to reduce our readiness as a nation. This is part of the internal war.
Who willnot join?
The kind of recruits the military needs are the same kind who have no desire to sit in a classroom and be told they are racist, sexist, misogynist, or any other kind of ‘ist. Our military needs people who are physically fit and mentally capable of combat in harsh environments. They should not be filling out paperwork identifying their pronouns. These are the kind of recruits who love this country and cannot see enlisting in this environment. I cannot blame them.
Who will join?
There are great people still joining the military. They keep their heads down and focus on the mission while waiting for a leadership climate more focused on readiness and excellence. They pray for something new in 2024. This also means there are many joining who are willing to take part in the indoctrination and might even embrace it. Those who embrace the woke culture are typically not your warfighters. This causes problems for commanders who are tasked with training their people for combat and building the best team they can in a political environment focused on pronouns, diversity, equity, inclusion, and the apparent targeting of patriotic people for removal.
How Does Lowering Recruiting Standards Impact Readiness?
1. Every time standards are lowered recruits who otherwise could not join flood the recruiting centers, fill basic training slots, then move out to active, reserve, or national guard units. Here they often cause more problems because the issues they had prior to enlistment are magnified in the high-paced and stressful military environment.
2. Commanders tasked with building combat-ready teams spend much of their time dealing with those problems. They spend a lot less time on training and readiness as a result.
3. The recruits who have the problems get waivers to join because those tasked with meeting recruiting numbers are only responsible for signing them to a contract and rarely deal with that same recruit a year later. In recruiting command, the goal is quantity over quality.
4. Commanders who would rather have eighty percent of their units filled with high-quality servicemembers are forced into accepting new recruits with problems. Their units look like they are one hundred percent filled on paper, but the reality is commanders are forced to spend eighty percent of their time on the twenty percent with the greatest number of problems. This is time-consuming, and the eighty percent see the command focused on the biggest problems, not the biggest contributors. The same twenty percent usually end up being removed from service for a variety of reasons and it can take a long time. All these factors kill the morale of the unit and cause the quality to leave rather than re-enlist. In the worst case, something I have personally experienced, the unit is scheduled to deploy, and the same twenty percent must stay home. The American taxpayer just spent thousands of dollars training somebody who cannot do their job. Commanders seek quality over quantity, the opposite of the recruiting mentality.
What can be done?
1. Elect a different Commander in Chief, one who respects the military and understands its importance.
2. Eliminate the vaccine mandate for all servicemembers. No, the most recently signed NDAA did not accomplish that for all.
3. Eliminate all Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training requirements and offices/positions.
4. Raise recruiting standards, don’t lower them. Quality often matters more than quantity. Quality builds great teams, quantity builds a stack of paperwork and wastes time and money.
5. Diversify incentives. Servicemembers join for many reasons, not always financial.
6. Teach the meaning of the oath and the U.S. Constitution, as originally written and intended.
The military needs to be an organization recognized for having the highest standards. This creates a culture of excellence where servicemembers know they are part of the elite and are expected to perform that way. Lowering standards does not work, it creates more and bigger problems.
Lt Col (ret), US Army, Darin Gaub is Co-founder of Restore Liberty, an international military strategist and foreign policy analyst, an executive leadership coach, and serves on the boards of multiple volunteer national and state level organizations. The views presented are those of the author and do not represent the views of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or its components.