The Pentagon says that about 71% of the 34 million 17–24-year-olds in the U.S. would not be able to join the military because of their health, physical appearance, or educational background.
The Wall Street Journal says that people who are overweight, don’t have a high school diploma or GED, have been convicted of a felony, take ADHD medication, or have certain tattoos or ear piercings are usually not eligible. However, some of these rules can be waived.
The Defense Department says that only 1% of young people are both “eligible” for military service and “willing to talk with” the military about it.
About 180,000 men and women join the active-duty forces each year. In recent years, the U.S. military has been busy, so some of the rules for joining have been loosened. In 2007, only 79% of those who joined had a high school diploma. In 2001, that number was 90%. During the Iraq war, the military also didn’t care as much about how fat its soldiers were.
Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said, “We have not adopted a zero-defect mentality.” He pointed out that the military has met its recruiting goals over the past few years. “We look at each applicant as a whole person when we make our decisions.”