Local teens and young people seeking spots in the armed forces are up against tightened standards for acceptance.
In a county that local recruiters say has no shortage of those looking to join the military, recruiters for the Army and Navy say they’re turning away about three of every four applicants – a number consistent with averages across the country.
“It’s both good and bad,” said Navy Petty Officer Matt Schipper, a recruiter based in Crystal Lake. “We’re having to turn away people that this would be a good option for. ... But it’s also allowing us to put the best that we can into the Navy.”
The tightening of expected qualifications aligns with a drawdown of troops and comes as people continue to seek the military for its financial benefits rather than face an unsure job market.
“It’s definitely gone up because of the recession,” Schipper said. “We provide them the means to take care of their finances.”
Navy recruiters have started looking for better scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a military admissions test.
Five or six years ago, Schipper said, the Navy expected scores from successful applicants to be in the top 65 percent. Today, they’re looking for applicants to score in the top 50 percent.
About 90 percent of those enlisted last year scored a 50 or higher.
And it’s not just the admission test that matters.
So far this year, 98.7 percent of those recruited into the Navy have high school diplomas. About 90 percent of applicants recently enlisted into the Army have a high school diploma, said 1st Sgt. Jeremy Edwards, who’s based in Libertyville.
And representatives from the Army and Navy say both have tightened regulations when it comes to body composition.
Applicants to the Army previously were allowed up to 26 percent body fat based on measurements taken on their neck and waist. That number has shrunk to 24 percent, Edwards said.
“We have reduced that for the 17- to 20-year-olds,” Edwards said. “We have tightened that up a little bit.”
Edwards encouraged applicants who aren’t yet at the requirements to keep at it, whether it be taking practice tests or working out to cut fat.
He said Army recruiters try to stay in touch with those applicants who might find themselves in a position for enlistment in the future. And he added the Army Reserve is starting to take a greater number of applicants.
“The whole time we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reserves played a more important role that we didn’t see in the past,” Edwards said. “So we’ve kind of increased the workload.”
Schipper similarly encouraged applicants to not get discouraged and to keep working toward qualifying for the Navy’s tougher standards.
For those who’ve identified an interest in joining the military early, he offered a simple bit of advice: pay attention in school.
“A lot of people think that the grades don’t matter,” he said. “They come into our office and they don’t get in because they didn’t put forth the effort needed in high school.”