Members of the U.S. Navy League Aurora Council 247 and their guests learned recently that recruiters for the military are having a tough time finding eligible recruits to serve.
Less than one-third of America’s youths are qualified to serve in the military, according to Navy Lt. Kortney D. Fink, enlisted production officer in the Navy Recruiting District of Chicago.
Fink spoke during a Navy League meeting held in Montgomery about the problem recruiters for all branches of the military are experiencing in finding eligible recruits.
She said many willing recruits are rejected because of physical and mental problems, as well as their past use of drugs and criminal records. In fact, she said recruiters estimate that only 29 percent of America’s youths are qualified to serve in the military, which is causing implications for our national security.
Fink is responsible for recruitment in the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
She said the Midwest has turned out to be a very challenging area for recruiting.
Some of the problems Fink says recruiters run into in Illinois are young people who are incapable of serving.
“They want to serve, they want to change their lives, they want it better for themselves. Unfortunately, there are rules we have in place in the Navy that prohibit people with felonies from joining the military,” she said.
“Not many kids today see the military as an option for them. They have no idea of what we do. We work with educational teachers, counselors and principals and introduce them to Navy life,” Fink added.
“The educators think the Navy is like the movie ‘Officer and a Gentleman,’ but it’s nothing like that,” she said.
There have been a couple recent changes in qualifications for enlistment applicants, Fink noted. The Navy has lowered the test score to 31 from 35, and the eligible ages are now 18 to 30s, but it has not helped much.
“We’re trying to get them to think about military as an option,” she said.
Fink admitted all Navy recruitment districts are having a hard time meeting enlistment quotas.
Lt. Lauren K. Carthan, USN Ret. and senior Navy science teacher for the East Aurora High School NJROTC, said the program’s students must pass the same physical requirements as all other recruits, but they enter the Navy with an E-3 rank because of the training.
But even some of these students may be dealing with the same problems and challenges as others and are taking medications for depression and anxiety.
“If they see a recruiter while in middle school, they may not start these habits. But by the time we see them in high school, they have these habits. That’s where the 29 percent comes from,” Carthan said.
Fink said waivers can be applied for some students who have committed crimes, and marijuana use is not a disqualifier anymore as long as there is a medical waiver.
If a recruit was under 18 when a felony was committed, and they can be shown to be a good member of society with no other issues, they can be reviewed by an admiral.
She said the Navy is now changing its rules on body fat index and meeting the initial run test.
Fink said the Navy has worked with kids, recalling one who lost 100 pounds so he could be eligible to join.
Carthan said they also work with the students and they work with the recruiters to get them in shape to qualify for the Navy.
However, many kids in the Midwest just don’t think joining the military is the thing to do.
Fink said a lot of kids reject themselves because they don’t think they are qualified.
So what would happen if war broke out and more people would be needed in the military? How would the country deal with having only 29 percent of possible recruits eligible?
She said the government has a plan to reinstitute the draft to be sure of getting the people they would need.
After her talk, Fink received a certificate of appreciation from Rick Todas, retired Army colonel and president of the Navy League.