Mil­i­tary may look past fat, tats, pot

Pen­tagon weighs eas­ing re­cruit­ment rules to lure tal­ent

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION - By W.J. Hen­ni­gan

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.

SAUL LOEB/GETTY-AFP

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