Tuesday, January 10, 2006

An Army of One...IQ Point?

Fred Kaplan has an interesting piece in Slate:

Three months ago, I wrote that the war in Iraq was wrecking the U.S. Army, and since then the evidence has only mounted, steeply. Faced with repeated failures to meet its recruitment targets, the Army has had to lower its standards dramatically. First it relaxed restrictions against high-school drop-outs. Then it started letting in more applicants who score in the lowest third on the armed forces aptitude test—a group, known as Category IV recruits, who have been kept to exceedingly small numbers, as a matter of firm policy, for the past 20 years. (There is also a Category V—those who score in the lowest 10th percentile. They have always been ineligible for service in the armed forces and, presumably, always will be.)
The evidence is overwhelming. Take tank gunners. You wouldn't think intelligence would have much effect on the ability to shoot straight, but apparently it does. Replacing a gunner who'd scored Category IV on the aptitude test (ranking in the 10-30 percentile) with one who'd scored Category IIIA (50-64 percentile) improved the chances of hitting targets by 34 percent. (For more on the meaning of the test scores, click here.)
Smarter also turns out to be cheaper. One study examined how many Patriot missiles various Army air-defense units had to fire in order to destroy 10 targets. Units with Category I personnel had to fire 20 missiles. Those with Category II had to fire 21 missiles. Category IIIA: 22. Category IIIB: 23. Category IV: 24 missiles. In other words, to perform the same task, Category IV units chewed up 20 percent more hardware than Category I units. For this particular task, since each Patriot missile costs about $2 million, they also chewed up $8 million more of the Army's procurement budget.

Well, duh.

Right after graduation from college my first military assignment was as a recruiter for the Army ROTC Battalion at Texas Tech. Basically, I was in a holding pattern until I shipped to infantry school and being a "Gold Bar Recruiter" was a way to keep me off the streets and out of trouble.

Part of my job was visiting high schools and talking to guidance counselors and teachers about ROTC and seeing if they had any students who might be interested. I was always amazed at the dregs of the student body that I would end up talking to. There seemed to be this belief that the Army was only a fit for dummies, losers who couldn't hack it in the real world. Never mind that I was recruiting for college ROTC which required some degree of intellect. (Insert Texas Tech joke here.) It took a lot of effort to explain that the Army wasn't a good fit for people who could barely read or didn't have the wherewithal to graduate from high school. And now look where we're at.

This policy will bear fruit for decades to come. Dumb fruit. If anything we need to be recruiting in the opposite direction. You're not good enough, cool enough, or smart enough for my Army. That approach has worked with my own company. I'm very selective as to who I will take as transfers into my unit, and I let the recruiters know not to put any dummies in my company. This has had ripple effects. People want to join our unit because they know we won't take just any one. The soldiers feel good to be part of an organization with standards.

What really scares me is that we might be recruiting more Lyndie Englands.


At January 10, 2006, Blogger hank_F_M said...


I used to be a civilian employee of MEPCOM as well as being responsible for recruiting my reserve company whether or not the recruiters did it.

Kaplan’s article is excellent. He is missing one important point.

A recruiter lives with the fact that 6% of the preferred demographic will talk to him/her politely. A quarter to a half of those will seriously consider enlisting. Of the target demographic, the kids are considering several employment opportunities. For most it is current employment not long-term career they are thinking about. In this group there is a strong inverse relationship between the unemployment rate and the enlistment rate. McDonald’s with more spending money than they ever had and time off can look a lot better than a three year enlistment even in peacetime.

We currently have the lowest unemployment 15 or 20 years. The percentage of the preferred demographic that will actually enlist would be way down even in peacetime. The Army is doing the only thing it can in this case, use a larger demographic.

Once I was a platoon leader in the inner city where my platoon sergeant and myself were the only soldiers not in Cat IV or IIIB. We had the top training program in the Brigade that summer, it can be done. But it will take a lot more time and effort into training than the current SecDef is likely to fund.

What is really scary is it is beginning to remind me of when Secretary McNamara authorized an increase of CAT IV draftees during Viet Nam, supposedly to provide them with occupational training. They filled the 11B ranks and allowed middle class draftees to serve in non-combat positions. Middle class parents vote. Well this time, at least, it is not deliberate, but a disproportionate number of the low end recruits will end up as 11B's and the casualty rates will go up.

But you are right be as selective in recrutiting as your commander will allow you, if you have a good cadre you can bring fillers, even low end ones, into an effective unit in an emergency.

At January 11, 2006, Blogger J. said...

Yes, interesting article and certainly something to keep an eye on. I like your point about the public impression that the Army is for "losers". I wonder if sometimes the Army shouldn't try to aim higher (or if it can't) like the Marines in a way. I've met so many Marines that knew the history of the Marine Corps up and down. Clear pride in what they do and what the Marines stood for. It seems that the Army on the other hand prefers quantity over quality (and understandably so, since our requirements are much higher than the Marines), but at the same time, there must be a way to correct this image.

Stripes comes to mind - the tired soldiers trooping from the field. "What a great way, what a great place to be." Maybe I'm kidding myself - while the Army leaders seem to care about the troops, it's a failure in the middle management (the Army civilian bureacracy?) to follow through and ensure soldiers are kept satisfied. After all, the soldiers that leave the Army end up being the real recruiters out there.


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