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Pentagon Report Finds 77% of Young Americans are Ineligible for Military Service

An estimated 321,000 Americans are qualified and inclined to join the military

The majority of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 would not qualify to join the military without obtaining a waiver according to a new study commissioned by the Department of Defense.

In total, 77% of Americans in the age bracket are ineligible due to drug use or health issues, including weight. The revelation comes as part of the analysis in the 2020 Qualified Available Study which is conducted by the Pentagon’s office of personnel and readiness.

“When considering youth disqualified for one reason alone, the most prevalent disqualification rates are overweight (11%), drug and alcohol abuse (8%), and medical/physical health (7%),” states the study which was obtained by

Additionally, 4% of potential recruits were disqualified for mental health-related reasons and 1% were disqualified because of aptitude, conduct, or for being a dependent. The majority of young Americans – 44% — were disqualified from joining the military for one or more reasons.

The 2020 study results show a 6% increase in ineligibility among young adults. The same study showed that 71% of 17- to 24-year-olds needed a waiver to join the military in 2017. At that time, obesity (11%), drug and alcohol abuse (8%), and medical or physical issue (7%) were the most common singular reasons for disqualification, although the majority (44%) were ineligible for multiple reasons. 

In May, “Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville testified before Congress that only 23% of Americans ages 17-24 are qualified,” per NBC News

The outlet reported that a 2022 internal Defense Department survey found just 9% of those qualified were interested in joining the military – the lowest interest level since 2007.

The military has struggled to meet its recruiting goals across most branches in recent years.

As of June, the Army had met roughly 40% of its enlistment recruiting goal for the 2022 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

The Air Force, which had not missed a recruitment goal since 1999, was predicted to not reach its goal of enlisting 50,000 airmen. The Air National Guard and Reserves were also expected to miss recruitment goals as well.

While it had recruited 80% of its needed reservists and 93% of its needed offices, the Coast Guard had reached just 55% of its active-duty enlistment goals by six months into the year. 

The Space Force, active-duty Navy and active-duty Marines were both projected to meet their enlistment goals for 2022.  

Marine General David Ottignon, who is the branch’s Deputy Commandant for Manpower & Reserve Affairs, told Congress that the quality of Marines “remains exceptionally high” even though 2022 “proved to be arguably the most challenging year in recruiting history.” 

“In addition to COVID-19, the growing disconnect and declining favorable view between the U.S. population and traditional institutions, labor shortages, high inflation, and a population of youth who do not see the value of military service also continue to strain recruiting efforts and place the Marine Corps’ accession mission at risk,” Ottignon wrote in a statement

The stagnation has prompted concern among legislators, who express concern about recruitment strategy and national security. 

At a budget meeting for the Senate Armed Services Committee in April, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis said the military’s struggle to recruit needed servicemembers should prompt the Defense Department and Congress to take action.

“I’m worried we’re now in the early days of a long-term threat to the all-volunteer force, with a small and declining number of Americans who are eligible and interested in military service,” said Tillis. “Every single metric tracking the military recruiting environment is going in the wrong direction. … In most cases, we’re seeing the worst numbers in the last few decades.”

California Congresswoman has said the military should review its marketing efforts to better appeal to Americans in its target age demographic.

“The Army has to recognize that there’s been an evolution in that young population,” said Speier, who chairs the Subcommittee on Military Personnel, per CNBC. “And if you’re going to target that young population for service, you’ve got to make it appealing to them.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior fellow for the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in August that 321,000 or 1% of the “the total age-eligible population both qualified and inclined to join the military.”

She noted that low trust in the American government, COVID-19 vaccination requirements, and the “tragic failure in Afghanistan and the broader long wars in the Middle East,” as well as increasing politicization of the military all contributed to the decline in potential new recruits. 

“The struggles to meet active duty end-strength levels are coming at a time that challenges confronting the nation are more numerous and more difficult. They demand not just a maintained force, but a larger one to keep people and national interests protected,” wrote Eaglen. “This means reforming military culture that disincentivizes enlistment, adequately providing a quality life and pay for service members, focusing more attention on enlisted troops across the armed services, and rebuilding a closer relationship of trust and support with the American public.”

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