This post had originally started as a diatribe about comparing being a Soldier to working the register at McDonald's. It changed thanks to a conversation with the best applicant on Earth. Ms. Rider has been working on getting into the Army since 2004. She even succeeded and joined as a 97B. Her side of the story is well documented on her blog. I don't agree with her choice to not ship, but I can empathize with what she was feeling, and I can believe that a scenario like that could happen. Try as we might us recruiters are not always as up front with our applicants and future Soldiers as we could be. She got caught up in that and was left a bit disillusioned. Regardless, she still wants to serve. Since Ms. Rider accounts for about 12% of my audience there isn't a great need to give background, but I will because it makes the story more interesting.
She works at a gym, teaches a spin class, and is by any definition in great shape. Well, almost any definition. By her own admission she has a rather ample butt with everything else being pretty skinny. Which gets me closer to my point.
Even though it doesn't get a lot of press anymore, the Army is still going through a transformation. As I understand it the point of the transformation is to make the Army more flexible and lethal. For me the sum total of the Transformation was new head gear, but I'm a very tiny, unimportant cog. I'm sure you other five readers (Hi Mom!) are curious what Ms. Rider's butt has to do with the Army Transformation; I'll get to it.
For the Army there is but one test to determine body fat. The Tape Test. The tape test consists of taking at least two measurements of a man's abdomen and neck, or at least two measurements of a woman's hips, neck, forearms, and wrist. You take the results, run them through a couple of involved mathematic formulas, and coming to a result. There are several simple programs available for Soldiers to make the math easier and less prone to error. I'm yet to meet a fitness or nutrition guru who felt that the tape test was an accurate assessment of body fat, let alone fitness. However it is something that's cheap, easy, and can be done by an E-0 with a minimum of training. And for 99% of the people who will join the Army it's accurate "enough".
The problem comes when "accurate enough" doesn't work, and that is where Ms. Rider finds herself. A quick pinch of a caliper would show that Ms. Rider easily makes the body fat requirements, but there is no provision in the Army's regulations to allow for such a test. It's the tape or nothing. That is where my frustration lies. Every week I can read in the Army Times about something new and different being tried, tested in the battlefield, found to be excellent, and implemented across the Army. The Army basically scrapped 50 years of experience with heavy armor to move to something lighter based on nothing but the expectation that change was coming (I'm generalizing, dear God DO NOT take my comments as official, it's my opinion). And come that change did. The War on Terror is unlike anything we've fought before. It's Cold War strategy with hot war battles. It requires us to be lethal and flexible.
The Army has implemented several programs and changes to help us meet the requirements. The 09L program fills a cultural shortfall in people who speak the language. The age limit increase expands the eligibility pool for enlistees, attracting people with more mature skills. Equipment procurement has been streamlined, and off-the-shelf technology is becoming more and more commonplace. These are all changes made Post 9-11, or were started before 9-11 but were ramped up to meet the needs of the service.
I'm sure I'll take some flak for this comment from many folks, it's probably justified, but my blog, my opinion. Recruiting is a front line in the War on Terror. While the Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan represent the fighting force, we one the streets are trying to find the next 6-10 years worth of the Army. Any gains we make on the battle field have to be sustained by the efforts of people who are not even in High School yet.
Recruiting doesn't stand around and let the world pass them by. In my short time in USAREC I've seen some pretty impressive changes in some of the programs. The most obvious one is of course the bonuses. A couple months ago the Army doubled the maximum allowable bonuses for the RA and the AR. $40,000 and $20,000 respectively are now available for people who enlist. Very recently the Army introduced a Referral Bonus to encourage people in the Army to refer someone they know. These were all good ideas that help put people into the Army. I'm curious how many more people they put in though.
Enlistment bonuses, at least from what I've seen, don't make someone join the Army. They help the Army meet particular enlistment needs. Someone who wants to be a MP with an $8,000 bonus might decide that being a cannon crewmember is a more attractive option when it comes with a $35,000 bonus. But that doesn't put anyone else into the Army. The kid who I was using in that example was a walk in who wanted to join because he thought it was the right thing to do. The money just helps him choose something else.
Most people won't join the Army because of the available bonus. The bonus can help those on the fence decide they want to do it, but those sorts are people who are already pretty committed to enlisting, the bonus just made the choice easier. The magic bullet of recruiting woes is a way to increase the pool of available people, while not making the quality of the pool shallower. It's a difficult balance to strike. Ms. Rider represents part of that extended pool.
There number of people who are like Ms Rider are few, but they're there. If a gun was held to my head to come up with a number I'd bet that each recruiting battalion could find 10 people who fail a tape test, but would have a caliper measured body fat 5% or more under the taped body fat. Why we don't allow these people to enlist makes my nose bleed. 40 Recruiting battalions, 10 people each battalion, that's 400 a year. Not all of these are fully new people. Some of them will lose the weight necessary to enlist under the tape, but not all and not all quickly, but still, it seems like exploring the advantages of a $30 fat caliper is a better investment in adding strength to the Army than a $40,000 bonus.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is there are ways we can make the Army better without lowering the quality. Restricting ourselves to only one measurement of fitness for initial procurement isn't a smart thing to do. We turn away qualified people because they can do mad squats in a gym. I know that this is just going to go out into the echo chamber of my fellow recruiters, and sometimes all I want is a bit of reassurance that I'm not crazy.