Any time I see someone, or some organization recognize and address the real societal issues of our country, I applaud their ingenuity and efforts. In this regard I admire the effort by the U. S. Army to address its enlistment shortfalls and the nation’s obesity problem. If one adds supplemental education, you have a real winner with the new Future Soldier Preparatory Course conducted at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Challenges of Obesity and Education
In the United States we face a serious issue with both obesity and declining educational scores. This double “whammy” on our youth leaves all branches of the military with staffing shortfalls. In all wars soldiers must be involved in the frontline resolution to fighting, and physically capable of combat. Keeping the ranks of our military filled is imperative to the nation.
According to the Army, only 23% of America’s youth fully meet the eligibility requirements for enlistment. To the Army’s credit they have approached these personnel issues proactively and are working to resolve manpower shortages with fresh ideas. From the perspective of the applicants the issue is not a lack of interest, but a lack of qualifications.
Those who cannot qualify to be a recruit take part in this ninety-day preparatory course. The Army wants recruits within specific bodyfat ranges (20% to 26% for men and 30% to 36% for women). To qualify for the physical fitness portion of the program, a person can be no higher than 6% over these ranges. Once they enter the program, they have only ninety days to meet the Army’s standards for entry level physical fitness. Those who can meet these standards can then move on to Basic Combat Training so long as they meet other qualifications for moral character and medical limitations.
According to General Paul E. Funk, II, leader of the Army’s Training and Indoctrination Command:
“The young men and women who will participate in this pilot must have the desire to improve themselves and want to honorably serve their country. This [program] is a great way to increase opportunities for them to serve without sacrificing the quality needed across our force.”
With rising childhood obesity rates and falling educational scores these intervention steps are one road to recovery for our youth.
This program is only the first step for those who graduate, a steppingstone to enter Basic Combat Training and more rigorous physical activity. It is here that the educational needs of the recruits are also addressed, and they are given the opportunity to meet the high school graduation requirements. But it is not all work without reward. Those who qualify also have a chance to earn a $35,000 to $50,000 enlistment bonus for a four-year tour of duty. Graduates also have more input into their first duty station.
I like the structure of the program because it is an opportunity for service, not an open invitation to serve. Pre-recruits must meet the requirements of this new program to serve our country and to insure themselves a bright future.
Military Service Worldwide
Mandatory military service is not an exception in the modern world. Many countries still require military service, even if it is brief. The web site World Population Review offers an interactive map (below) showing every country and the requirements of service. It is worth a few minutes to ponder.
Many of our adversaries require military service from their youth, strengthening their readiness for combat. Some countries (United States and China for example) have conscription and registration requirements, but they are only implemented when needed.
The Case for Voluntary Service Only
You could start a discussion that would last a lifetime debating a volunteer versus a conscripted military. In the United States today we focus more on the benefits of an all-volunteer force believing that populating the military with only those who want to serve produces a better, more dedicated force. There is a lot to be said for that perspective and it has served us well in recent conflicts.
There is strong evidence to show that we have benefitted from an all-voluntary military since Vietnam. We know that the men and women serving want to be there and a significant hurdle is overcome even before you start. You can even argue that an all-voluntary force is more receptive to training, that they are more patriotic, and have a greater appreciation of our nation’s history.
Some outliers argue that mandatory service is unconstitutional and falls into the category of involuntary servitude, but I believe this is a hollow argument. If this were true, then conscription during World War I and II would have been considered unconstitutional. Arguments often made in favor of only voluntary service include:
- Voluntary service is all that should be necessary in times of peace and economic globalization
- Other forms of national service might be more valuable to the nation
- A volunteer military does not suffer from poor moral, or lower standards
- Mandatory service comes with lifetime health risks
- Recruitment efforts do not need to account for people not suitable for military service because of crime, drugs, or other health issues
- Conflicts with religious beliefs are eliminated
Those who serve voluntarily do so acknowledging the risks. But life is not without risks, even in the private sector.
The Case for Mandatory Service
An all-volunteer force has some drawbacks outside of the military for our overall population. There is a strong case to be made for two years of mandatory service for all our youth. While this might seem extreme, extreme measures are needed to address the health and educational shortfalls of our youth. In 2014 General Stanley McChrystal proposed mandatory service to:
“Create a new rite of passage into adulthood and forge a renewed sense of citizenship.”
There is a lot to be said for this concept and one we should ponder to come together as a nation and address our challenges both internally and externally. There is much to be said for the shared experience of military service in forging a nation.
Today’s youth is more likely to have a shared experience of playing the same video game than sharing a love of Country. They are more likely to play video soccer than real soccer. Changes in behavior are obviously needed to address our future as a nation.
Not every member of the military carries a rifle, flies a jet, or goes into combat. Everyone needs to know how to, but the chances of being called into active combat service are low. With many high tech and support skills needed in the military it seems more likely that the majority of conscripts would not go into combat. But what they, and the nation, gain is substantial. Knowing that you are heading to a period of military service, our youth should focus more on their health and readiness for that period of their life. A brief list of other mandatory service benefits include:
- Sufficient people in the military to defend the Country
- A great time to grow in personality and boost confidence
- Overall level of perseverance may increase
- Excellent preparation for the workplace and future job skills
- Many young people would acquire discipline and structure
- The physical fitness level for all will improve, lowering healthcare costs
- People often meet and make friends for a lifetime
- Healthcare is available during a critical transition to adulthood
- Some will make the military a career
- While the ongoing pay may lag the private sector, learning to earn and manage money is a key life skill
- In the military social status does not play a role in success
- Military service helps promote patriotism
There are countries where broader programs exist, where the military is only a part of the equation. Typically, they include service programs like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, intercity teaching, and other social programs. But these are not the same and lack the required health and team building benefits of military service.
Fair for All
A young person who knows they face a period where physical fitness is critical will be more receptive to getting off the couch and getting active. For those headed to college this is a good break and maturing period after high school.
It is also important that mandatory service is not stratified by race, gender, status, or wealth. The son or daughter of a Senator is no more important at this stage of life than the child of any intercity family. If one will serve, all need to serve. A year of training and a year of service can set many of our youth on a path to success and is little enough time out of their lives.
The Army Must Be Free to Do Its Job
One important aspect of a change back to mandatory service is the backing of Congress and the American people. We need to let the military do their jobs. If you could make our youth healthy again through lawsuits, social media, television, and video games we would already be there.
The Army must be insulated from outside influences to succeed, and this may be the greatest hurdle to success.
Resources Used in This Article
Army launches weight loss and academic programs to broaden its pool of eligible recruits, by Caitlyn Doornbos, Stars and Stripes, stripes.com, July 26, 2022.
Army Opens its Doors to Recruits Who Fail to Meet Initial Body Fat and Academic Standards Amid Recruiting Crisis, by Steve Beynon, Military News, military.com, July 26, 2022.
Army opens Prep School at Fort Jackson, by John Harlow and Chris Rasmussen, U. S. Army, army.mil, Augusta 4, 2008.
Countries with Mandatory Military Service 2023, World Population Review, worldpopulationreview.com, Last accessed August 13, 2023.
Fighting Weight: How Military Recruiters Take On Obesity, Case By Case, by Yuki Noguchi, NPR/GPB, npr.org, May 17, 2021.
Future Soldiers Program, Army-Portal, army-portal.com, March 3, 2011.
How To Join the Military If You’re Overweight, by Rob V., Operation Military Kids, operationmilitarykids.org, April 30, 2023.
One Year of Mandatory National Service For Every American?, by Lauren Katzenberg, The New York Times Magazine, nytimes.com, June 21, 2019.
Pro and Con: Mandatory National Service, by Encyclopedia Britannica’s ProCon.org, britannica.com, July 8, 2021.
US Army Plans To Create A Fat Camp For Overweight, Out Of Shape Recruits, by Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation, shorenewsnetwork.com, July 27, 2022.
U.S. Army Recruiting Command: Future Soldier Portal, recruiting.army.mil, Last accessed August 14, 2023.
What You Should Know About the Army Weight Control Program, by Stew Smith, Military.com, military.com, 2023.