Military may look past fat, tats, pot
Pentagon weighs easing recruitment rules to lure talent
WASHINGTON —The new U.S. military wants you — even if you’re overweight, covered in tats and stoned on weed.
The Pentagon is considering that recruiting pitch as it scrambles to keep up with America’s changing social mores and strives to attract the tech-savvy talent it needs to fight future wars.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a broad review of recruiting standards this week, saying he wants to ensure that rules are not “unnecessarily restrictive” on issues like fitness, tattoos, marijuana use and letting single parents enlist.
“We’re gonna review and update these standards as appropriate,” Carter said Tuesday in a speech to ROTC cadets at the City College of New York.
“Now some of these things we’ll never be able to compromise on,” he added. “And we will always have to maintain high standards. But at the same time, these benchmarks must be kept relevant for both today’s force and tomorrow’s, meaning we have to ensure they’re not unnecessarily restrictive.”
The review reflects recognition, in part, that the all-volunteer military may rely less on ground infantry operations in the future and more on desk-bound analysts, robotics operators, software engineers and cyber-warriors.
It also reflects the fact that a growing number of states have legalized mari- Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced a broad review of recruiting standards for the nation’s military. juana, even though the federal government has not, and that some branches of the military already have eased their tattoo bans.
The recruitment review marks the latest step by the Obama administration to push the tradition-bound Pentagon onto a more modern footing.
Over the past year, the Pentagon has opened combat positions to women, given gay and lesbian service members protection from discrimination and lifted bans against transgender men and women serving openly.
Some military leaders and outside critics say the Pentagon is moving too fast. And the next president is almost certain to pick a new secretary of defense so Carter’s review may get sidelined.
“The Pentagon is in a bind because there is a shrinking number of people that meet all their criteria, but there are certain standards that shouldn’t be jettisoned just because we need recruits,” said Phillip Carter, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
“As technology evolves, the military may need a different type of soldier for certain jobs,” said Peter W. Singer, a fellow at the nonpartisan NewAmerica think tank, who studies the future of war. “The guy with a crew-cut is not always the best for the job. Sometimes you need some weirdos on your team to get things done.”
For now, all the uniformed services are meeting their recruiting goals, and there is no plan to expand the current force.
But Carter wants more young people to consider joining who may not meet current enlistment standards. The majority of those who now apply are rejected because of health, drug use and other problems.
More Americans than ever before are overweight or obese, for example. The Pentagon may allow portly, paunchy and potbellied recruits to enlist — and then whip them into shape in boot camp.
Under Pentagon rules, anyone who reports to a processing center for boot camp and tests positive for illegal drug use is rejected.
That has created clear obstacles in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C., where recreational marijuana is now legal, and 20 other states that permit its medicinal use.
Tattoos also are more common. Nearly half all Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s sport at least one tattoo, according to a poll conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. in February.
That said, swastika or gang sign tattoos are explicitly forbidden. Face, neck and hand tattoos are largely barred as well.