Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday called it a “sad state of affairs” when most of America’s young males cannot qualify for military service due to obesity or drug use.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when 71 percent of the 18 to 24-year-old males in this country cannot qualify to enter the United States Army as a private,” he told cadets at the Virginia Military Institute.
“That’s a baseline that you’ve got to be at least, you know, not obese, not using drugs, you know, a high school grad, and real baseline. And the army establishes it through army regs, and it is not an exaggerated one,” he said.
Mattis said having only 29 percent who qualify for military service is a “real problem.”
The Army did not meet its recruiting goals by thousands this year, the first time since the height of the Iraq War, according to a recent report by the New York Times. According to the report, the Army has been allowing those who do not meet the standards to sign up.
The article also cited the hot job market and the recent increase of the size of the military as contributing factors to recruitment problems.
“Today, we don’t need as large of military, but we need one big enough. And when are you drawing from only 29 percent at the beginning, only 29 percent is your total recruiting population — it creates a real problem for us,” Mattis said.
The retired four-star Marine general said he worried that the U.S. would not be prepared for future wars to ensure the nation’s freedom.
“We’re not going to hang onto these freedoms because our grandfathers fought on the beaches of Normandy or because our fathers fought in Vietnam,” he said. “Every generation, as President Reagan put it, is going to have to fight to keep this experiment alive. It’s a big concern to me. I don’t know what we can do about it.”
Mattis called the quality of lunches served at schools across the country “crummy,” and said Congress has not figured out how to help solve the problem, and encouraged cadets to get involved in the school boards in their communities.
“Most of America’s problems are solved at the local level. And that’s going to have to be where this one gets solved,” he said.
Mattis said recruiters are honing in on parts of the country where youth are more physically fit, but said, “they’re not going to be enough, in the long run, if we don’t turn this around.”
“Take the fitness that you’re expected to maintain here into every walk of life, not just your family but your parish, your school district, your local communities,” he told VMI cadets, “and get out there and start working with the kids when they’re young, because once they’ve gone over the edge, it’s very hard to bring them back.”