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US military may recruit foreigners to serve Print

December 26, 2006
Pentagon considering several 'disputed proposals' including fast-track citizenship for volunteers.
By Tom Regan  | csmonitor.com

Struggling to fill its depleted ranks using American citizenry, the US military is considering recruiting more non-US citizens, according to Pentagon officials.

The Boston Globe reports that this will include "disputed proposals" like opening recruiting offices overseas and fast-tracking foreigners who join the military for US citizenship.

    Foreign citizens serving in the US military is a highly charged issue, which could expose the Pentagon to criticism that it is essentially using mercenaries to defend the country. Other analysts voice concern that a large contingent of noncitizens under arms could jeopardize national security or reflect badly on Americans' willingness to serve in uniform. 

    The idea of signing up foreigners who are seeking US citizenship is gaining traction as a way to address a critical need for the Pentagon, while fully absorbing some of the roughly one million immigrants that enter the United States legally each year.

The Globe reports that the idea is not without precedent in American history. During the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, foreigners fought in large numbers alongside native-born troops. But one Army official privately expressed concern about the idea, saying it would "smack of the decline of the American empire" - a comparison to the last days of the Roman Empire when its emperors were forced to use foreigners to fight its wars because not enough Roman citizens would volunteer to fight.

Earlier this month, however, The Associated Press reported that the Pentagon announced that "the Navy and Air Force met their recruiting goals last month while the Army and Marine Corps exceeded theirs."

    The Army, which is bearing the brunt of the work in Iraq, did the best. It signed up 6,485 new recruits in November compared with its target of 6,150 — meaning 105 percent of its goal.

    All the services turned in similar performances in October as well, meaning they so far are meeting their goals for the 2007 budget year that began Oct. 1.

Channel CBS 5 in San Francisco reports that one big reason for this results is that all branches of the military are offering rich financial rewards for those enlisting, as much as $40,000 in some cases. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports on another reason — the military has raised the age limit at which men and women can enlist. In 2005 the age limit was 35 — since then, the Army has raised it to 42, while the other branches of the military have set it at 40.

In October, AP reported on a third reason for the increase in recruitment during the year - lower standards in those being recruited. The US Army, for instance, was able to recruit 2,600 more soldiers using the lower aptitude standards.

    Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a private research group, said there is a "fine balance between the need for a certain number of recruits and the standards you set."

    "Tests don't tell you the answer to the most critical question for the Army, how will you do in combat?" Goure said. But, he added, accepting too many recruits with low test scores could increase training costs and leave technical jobs unfilled.

The National Priorities Project (NPP), a research group studying the impact of federal spending policies at the community level, reported Friday that despite meeting many of its quantitative goals for 2006, the military fell far below meeting its qualitative goals.

    In 2004, 61 percent of active-duty Army recruits were 'high quality,' according to DoD criteria. In 2006, while the Army filled its ranks, only 47 percent — less than half — were 'high quality,' according to the same DoD criteria.

    The percentage of new recruits who were regular high school graduates (tier 1 in [Department of Defense (DoD)] parlance) dropped from 84 percent in 2005 to 73 percent in 2006, again falling short of the 90 percent benchmark established by the DoD after decades of research and experience. The percentage in 2004 was 86 percent. Put another way, the percentage of recruits with alternative credentials grew from 13 percent in 2004 to 16 percent in 2005 to 27 percent in 2006, or doubling in just two years.

The NPP also reports that wealthy neighborhoods (with a median household income of $60,000 or more) were more under-represented in recruiting in 2006 while lower- and middle-income areas were over-represented.

The Los Angeles Times reports that there is at least one way to increase the military that remains off the table: reinstating the draft.

    "We've been at it for 30-plus years," said Theodore Stroup Jr., a retired lieutenant general and former head of the Army personnel system. "We do not want to go back to a draft."

    Supporters of the volunteer force say it is of much higher quality than that of the draft era, which ended in 1973. Critics, however, suggest that the Army already has lowered its standards to meet recruiting goals and would have to lower them even more to meet a larger goal.

Despite the military's support of an all-volunteer force, expanding its size will be expensive. Military experts say that the Pentagon should be able to add 10,000 new troops during the coming year using greater incentives and advertising to boost enrollment, but doing so will cost an additional $1.2 billion. 

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