ABINGTON, Pa. (AP) — Saying the military needs to do more to compete with corporate America for quality recruits, Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened the door Monday to relaxing some enlistment standards — particularly for high-tech or cyber security jobs.
Speaking to students at his former suburban Philadelphia high school, Carter said the military could ease age requirements and bring in older people who are mid-career, or provide student loan repayments to attract students who have finished college.
There are few details so far, but Carter said the military needs to be more flexible in order to recruit and retain quality people.
The idea, largely in line with the civilian approach to recruitment, upends the military’s more rigid mindset, which puts a high value on certain standards. It reignites a persistent debate about how the services approve waivers for recruits who have committed lesser crimes, behaved badly, are older than current regulations allow or have other physical issues that prevent them from joining the military.
There is a historical precedent for waiving or lowering enlistment standards for certain people with specialized skills for military service. During World War II, no small number of people received direct commissions at elevated pay grades. Similarly, look to the establishment of the Navy’s Construction Battalions, the famous SeaBees. The first iterations of SeaBees were directly enlisted, often at senior pay grades, even Chiefs. The Navy simply didn’t have the manpower with specialized civilian engineering or construction skills to accomplish the vast base building they knew they would face in the Pacific.
These specialties generally were not in the line of succession to command, and so their rank posed little challenge to the authority of the line officers.
We may have to face a general lowering of the standards of enlistment for the force as a whole, but we’re not there yet. For the most part, the services have been able in recent years to meet their accession missions while maintaining the current high standards of enlistment.
We should note there there is legislation establishing the bare minimum requirements for enlistment, and then there are the policy standards imposed by each service over and above that. When we look at the lowered standards of the late 2000s, that was in line with policy, not the legislative portion.
But direct commissioning or accession of enlisted at higher paygrades, or with age waivers, or what have you, might require additional legislation from the Congress. As to a college loan repayment program, the US Army already has one. Generally anyone with a batchelor’s degree who enlists is eligible for it, and generally enlists in paygrade E-4.