Lower standards will lead to a weaker Army

By Se Young Lee

There is no doubt that the United States is being protected by the strongest armed forces in existence today, if not the strongest in the history of mankind. But, as the operations to drive out the insurgents and stabilize a nascent government continue in Iraq, it is becoming painfully clear that the military, particularly the Army, is finding it harder to send fresh, battle-ready soldiers to replace the veterans who have earned their ticket home. But by relaxing recruitment standards and the rigors of basic training, the Army is essentially sacrificing quality for the sake of quantity.

Overextension of the armed forces and the difficulty of recruiting new soldiers have been well documented in the past couple years. While the fact that more than 2,200 soldiers have died in Iraq is well known, most news outlets have not mentioned the 16,700 who were wounded. Juxtaposed with the number of troops who must be cycled in and out of bases in Europe, Asia and Afghanistan, the number crunch becomes very clear. The fact that some soldiers have reportedly gone back to Iraq for their third or fourth tour in the Arab nation underlines the seriousness of the situation.

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Furthermore, the Army has struggled to hit its recruiting goals as the insurgency refuses to subside and the public opinion against the war in Iraq continues to go south – particularly in 2005. To cope with the problem, the Army decided to recruit high school dropouts without GEDs while providing access to a program that will help them earn the degree. The drug policy was also relaxed, and more recruits with criminal records that would normally bar them from serving were also waivered into the armed forces.

Despite these measures, the Army still failed to meet its recruiting goals, falling short by almost 7,000. In response, the Army has scaled back the intensity of basic training – a period of nine weeks when drill instructors would get recruits ready, both mentally and physically, for battle while weeding out those who don’t have what it takes.

Instructors have now been ordered to be “kinder and gentler” to soldiers by cutting down on the yelling and becoming a nurturing figure to help recruits acquire and improve on necessary skills. There will be no more “shark attacks,” when drill instructors essentially get in the faces of newly arrived recruits and bark orders at a blistering pace. Recruits are now given more private time and allowed to eat as much as they want regardless of their physical shape.

Essentially, the Army is trying to cope with the fact that it is getting harder to get recruits who can withstand the rigors of battle. The Army also understands that it cannot afford to lose ones that signed up when they’re in boot camp. It has chosen to scale down the stress level and be less exacting.

But how confident can a drill instructor be of the recruits’ capabilities when he has not seen how they perform under extreme duress and in hostile environments? For that matter, can the soldiers in Iraq who have already survived combat count on new recruits – who didn’t even have to deal with instructors barking orders constantly – to react quickly and correctly when bullets are whizzing by and bombs are going off? Even if the newly minted soldiers manage to survive combat, can they really be expected to provide the type of knowledge, decisiveness and fortitude to become officers who will be the backbone of the Army?

It’s hard to criticize the Army for what it has done, simply because it is becoming more difficult every day for them to get enough new soldiers fast enough to replace those in Iraq who should have been allowed to return home a long time ago. But simply pushing through the recruits without pushing them to their limits does disservice to, and even endangers, both those who graduate from the low-stress boot camp and soldiers on the ground who are forced to rely on them.

Se Young Lee is a junior in Communications and the director of communications for the Illinois Student Senate. His columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]