Fred Kaplan has a very interesting article in today's Slate about the new relaxed standards for Army recruitment. Apparently, due to the Iraq war's strain on filling quota, the Army is filling its ranks with "Category IV" applicants, those who score near the bottom on the armed forces aptitude test. Historically there have been legally defined limits to the number of these Category IV personnel--a maximum of 2% in the '80s, upped to 4% last September. Even then, in 2004, at a time the Army was not faced with its current recruiting crisis, Kaplan says that only 0.6% of Army personnel were Category IV. However, in October 2005, 12% of new recruits were Category IV, and November likely saw at least that many if not more.
Now of course, these men and women have all the courage and training that you'd expect from any member of the armed forces. They can do their job capably and admirably. However, as Kaplan argues, the statistics show that smarter soldiers do make better soldiers. Kaplan cites studies done on soldiers' effectiveness at a wide range of tasks, from tank gunning to manning and repairing communications systems gear to firing Patriot missles. Overwhelmingly, the evidence is clear. "The higher the score on the aptitude test," he says, "the better the performance in the field. This is true for individual soldiers and for units."
None of this is meant as a slight to any armed forces personnel, who do a vital job and who do it well in defense of our country. In order to do the job properly in Iraq we need sufficient manpower on the ground. At a time when the pressure to deliver recruits is, the Army is doing all it can to get the job done, and the sacrifice of anyone who joins this cause is well appreciated.
That said, better soldiers make a better Army which does a better job. Wartime recruiting is much harder than peacetime recruiting. If the administration and the folks at the Department of Defense really care, how about offering better pay and benefits to attract better candidates rather than lowering your standards? Serving your country is an honorable calling, but for too many people who might otherwise be willing, it is not a viable one. Let's change that.