WASHINGTON: The US military will review recruitment practices to better reflect the changing face of America, including by possibly welcoming single parents, overweight people and even those who have smoked pot, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
While there is no shortage of people willing to don a uniform, Pentagon Chief Ashton Carter worries the military draws from limited pools of potential recruits, or that well-qualified individuals face rejection for relatively trivial reasons.
Recruiters face challenges “with spectacular potential recruits, who nevertheless also reflect the times in relation to such benchmarks as their current physical fitness, tattoos they got when they were younger, and single parenthood,” Carter said in prepared remarks at the City College of New York.
He said standards would never be compromised, but “at the same time, these benchmarks must be kept relevant for both today’s force and tomorrow’s.”
Carter ordered the Pentagon to review and update any “unnecessarily restrictive” standards.
In a Pentagon fact sheet, the military said it will review enlistment standards to ensure they are not unduly restrictive and “assess the feasibility and impact of updated standards, such as those related to body composition, physical fitness, swim tests, past marijuana use, single parents and tattoos.”
Colorado, Washington DC, Washington state, Alaska and Oregon have legalised recreational marijuana, and 20 other states allow its medicinal use. But pot smoking remains a federal offence.
Some services have already loosened certain restrictions. In April, the Navy began allowing sleeve-lengthed arm tattoos – and even ink on the hands and parts of the neck.
According to a Harris poll, nearly half (47 per cent) of Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s have at least one tattoo.
A US defence official stressed standards would not be affected, but said it should be easier for would-be recruits to join up if they are overweight, provided they get in shape at Boot Camp.
“Fitness does matter in a service, but one of the responsibilities we have when we bring people in is to make people fit if they aren’t already,” the official said.
Single parents currently can’t enlist, “but we have many troops in the ranks who are single parents, and we addressed that,” the official said.
Carter, who frequently focuses on America’s “Force of the Future,” has overseen sweeping changes including opening combat positions to women and lifting a ban on transgendered personnel openly serving – with the Pentagon now paying for “medically necessary” gender-reassignment surgery.
He also wants to address how future officers are trained, and attract talent from more of America instead of overly relying on families with a military tradition.
Currently, many officers come from the Northeast, while enlisted personnel frequently hail from the South.
“That’s paradoxical, though, since the Northeast is among the regions with the highest percentage of young Americans who have the qualifications we require to serve,” Carter said.
The military has about 1.3 million active-duty service members, with another 800,000 reservists.