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Reevaluating the Marine Corps Recruiting Standards 

Captain Brian R. Davis 

Major Donald Wright, CG5 

February 20, 2009 

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20 FEB 2009 2 ' REPORT TYPE 


00-00-2009 to 00-00-2009 


Reevaluating the Marine Corps Recruiting Standards 









United States Marine Corps,Command Staff College Marine Corps 
University,2076 South Street, Marine Corps Combat Development 







Approved for public release; distribution unlimited 






18. NUMBER 19a. NAME OF 



unclassified unclassified unclassified Report (SAR) 


Standard Form 298 (Rev. 8-98) 

Prescribed by ANSI Std Z39-18 

Proper enlistment and screening and job placement are 
prerequisites for efficiencies in training, retention of skilled 
personnel, and mission performance. Any deficiencies in the 
selection and classification system lead to increased training 
times and cost, dissatisfied personnel with concomitant 
decreases in morale, productivity, and retention, and critical 
shortages of skills caused by failure to achieve optimal 
assignment of available manpower into the various occupations. 

-A Department of Defense report to Congress (DoD, 1981a, p. 5) 


Marine Corps recruiting has always been a daunting task, 
but four new potential recruiting pitfalls are now threatening 
the fabric of the Corps. First, the Marine Corps is currently 
accepting the most uneducated recruits of all the service 
branches in order to meet recently increased enlistment goals. 
Second, potential recruits show less interest in joining the 
military now than any other time in recent history. Another 
potential shortfall is the undereducated minority groups that 
are continuously targeted to meet recruiters' guotas. Finally, 
the Marine Corps has had to lower not only its educational 
standards, but its moral standards as well. In order to meet the 
technological demands of today's battlefield while maintaining 
its principles, the Marine Corps needs to reevaluate its 
recruiting standards. 

History of Screening 

The Army leadership realized the importance of aptitude and 
education screening during World War I. Subsequently, the Army's 
Alpha and Bravo tests were developed primarily to judge the new 
recruits' potential ability and for job placement purposes. By 
World War II, the test had been improved and was renamed the 
Army General Classification Test (AGCT). After the war, every 
service had its own aptitude test, but every test had the same 
content, so in 1948 a working group was formed to develop a 


uniform aptitude test that met certain criteria agreed upon by 
all the services. What was created in 1950 became known as the 
Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). This test was used as a 
screening device to measure "general mental ability to absorb 
military training within a reasonable length of time" and 
"potential general usefulness in the service, if qualified on 
the tests." 1 

In order to increase efficiency, the Department of Defense 
developed the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) 
in 1976, which combined qualification and classification 
testing. This multiple choice test improved the ability to match 
applicants with available job positions and allowed guaranteed 
occupational specialties for the qualified applicants. 2 Of the 
nine subsets of the ASVAB, four are used to determine 
eligibility for enlistment and are referred to as the modern day 
AFQT. These four subsets are arithmetic reasoning, mathematics 
knowledge, paragraph comprehension, and word knowledge. The AFQT 
scores represent a person's trainability as compared to the 
general youth population and are compiled as percentiles. 
Therefore a score of 75% represents an applicant doing better 

1 Sheila Kirby, Enlisted Personnel Management: A Historical Perspective (Santa Monica: Rand Corp, 1996) 

2 Kirby, Enlisted Personnel Management 


than 75% of the test-takers. Six categories are used to further 

divide the scores as shown in Figure 1. J 

Tier and Mental Group Definitions 


Number of accessions is unconstrained 


Who Qualifies? 

Tier 1 

High School Dbloma 

Graduates (HSDGs) 

Adult Education Diploma, 
Completed 1 Semester 


Tier II 

GEDs, Home School, National 
Guard Youth ChalleNGe 
Program Graduates, 

Certificate of Attendance, etc. 

Tier III 






Cat. 1 

AFQT>= 93 

Cat. II 

65<= AFQT<93 

Cat. IIIA 

50<= AFQT<65 

Cat. IIIB 


Cat. IVA 


Cat IVR & C 


Meeting the Minimums 

The first three categories of the AFQT shown in 
are typically viewed as high quality scores and have 
limitations for eligibility. While category V, those 
less than ten, typically read at the 5 th to 7 th grade 
are excluded from military service. 

figure 1 

levels and 

3 Kirby, Enlisted Personnel Management 


The National Defense Authorization Act of 1981 limits the 
proportion of Category IV recruits to twenty percent. 4 It also 
mandates that those individuals without a high school diploma 
score a minimum of thirty one on the AFQT which is equivalent to 
at least category IIIB. 5 Currently, a high school diploma is 
desirable, but not required for service entry. However category 
IV recruits must be high school diploma graduates. Moreover, 
every service places an additional minimum AFQT for enlistment 
consideration. The Army's minimum is thirty one, the Marine's is 
thirty two, the Navy standard is thirty five, and the Air Force 
and Coast Guard are thirty six. 6 

The Department of Defense mandated in DoDI 1145.01, dated 
20 September 2005, that no more than four percent of an 
accession cohort can be Category IV, sixty percent must be 
Category IIIA or better, and ninety percent of all accessions 
must be Tier I. The Marine Corps has raised the bar further to 
limit category IV active duty accessions to one percent and 
requires ninety five percent of accessions to be Tier 1. 

However, these figures can be improved upon as the Air Force has 

4 Kirby, Enlisted Personnel Management 

5 Dana L. Bookshire, Anita U. Hattiangadi, and Catherine M. Hiatt, Emerging Issues in USMC Recruiting: Assessing 
the Success of Cat. IV Recruits in the Marine Corps. (Alexandria, Virginia: CNA Corporation, August 2006) 

6 Wikipedia. December 10, 2008. (accessed December 10, 2008). 


already proven with their exemplary standard of ninety nine 
percent Tier 1. 7 

The Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) conducted an assessment 
of the success of Category IV recruits in the Marine Corps in 
2006 and found the Marines accepted the highest percentage of 
Category IIIB recruits of all the services in the year 2004. 

This was the first time since 1995 that the Marine Corps has led 
all services in this unimpressive category. This grouping is the 
bottom half of test takers scoring from thirty one to fifty on 
the AFQT. 30.5% of Marine Corps recruits in 2004 were in this 
bottom category. Once again, the Air Force currently sets the 
standard having only eighteen percent of their recruits in this 
bottom category. 8 The Corps is being drained by these poorly 
educated recruits and this issue is easily resolved by simply 
not accepting poor performers. 

Doing More With Less 

Another major problem recruiters are facing is that there 
are fewer young men to select from. According to several DOD 
surveys, interest among young men in joining the Marines is at 
its lowest point in history, currently at eight percent. 9 One of 

7 Bookshire, Hattiangadi and Hiatt, Emerging Issues in USMC Recruiting. 

8 Bookshire, Hattiangadi and Hiatt, Emerging Issues in USMC Recruiting. 

9 Andrew Tilghman, "Tough times for today's recruiters." Marine Corps Times, April 14, 2008. 


the largest contributors to this generation's lack of military 
interest is the large number of young people who attend college. 

Andrew Tilghman, a journalist for the Marine Corps Times, 
wrote an article in November 2008 about how difficult it is to 
recruit in this day and age. The main point of his article is 
that today's quality of recruit is declining. He furthermore 
describes that recruiters are handing out more waivers than ever 
before as the standards of education are lower than they were 
years ago. Mr. Tilghman states, "For the troops in uniform, that 
means the new cohort of youngsters coming out of boot camp may 
have more health and disciplinary problems and more trouble 
quickly learning the skills needed to perform today's 
missions . " 10 

Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of 
North Carolina, claims, "There is almost no end to the ingenuity 
of the Pentagon in attracting people. And if push comes to 
shove, we will simply lower the requirements." One of Kohn's 
main concerns however is that tomorrow's recruits may not be as 
good as those in recent years." Kohn goes on to say, "We've gone 
through a 20-year period when we've had a very high quality in 
the American force," he said. "Maybe [military leaders] are 
going to have to learn to live with a force that is less capable 
coming in. Maybe they're going to have to learn to live with a 

10 Tilghman, "Tough times for today's recruiters." 


force that costs more in terms of training." If the Marine Corps 
priority is quantity during this time of war and meeting new 
recruitment goals because of the surge, then considerable effort 
must go into weighing the risk of meeting those goals at the 
expense of quality recruits. Peter Singer, head of the 21 st 
Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute, a 
Washington think tank, said it best, "There is a battle for 
talent in the 21st century. Finite resources are not just oil 
and natural gas. It's also human capital — human talent. And the 
military is going to have to be out there battling for it." 11 

Significantly lowering recruiting standards would not be 
out of the question. Historically, our military has relaxed 
standards for enlistment during times of war to facilitate the 
larger number of troops needed. World War I, World War II, 

Korea, and Vietnam were all examples of when the military 
lowered their standards to meet the minimum enlistment goals. 
Recent facts and figures show that the United States is content 
to lower the standards to dangerously low levels to meet the 
expansion goals set forth by the Secretary of Defense to 
continue to fight the Global War on Terror. 

In 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to 
expand the military by 92,000 Soldiers and Marines by the year 

11 Tilghman, "Tough times for today's recruiters." 

12 Kirby, Enlisted Personnel Management 


2011. The Marines will increase their numbers by 27,000 and are 
currently already two years ahead of schedule, hoping to reach 
that goal in early 2009. The goal for the end of fiscal year 
2007 was 184,000 Marines, but the Marine Corps' strength was 
actually 186,500. The goal for 2008 was 189,000, but the Marines 
actually ended the fiscal year with 198,000. In fiscal year 
2008, the Army signed up 80,517 new troops, while the Marines 
signed up 37,991. lj Because the Marine Corps is ahead of its 
expansion schedule, adjusting priorities from quantity to 
quality should be the focus. 

Targeting Marines, Not Quotas 

With the current expansion pressing recruiters even harder 
than before to meet quotas, recruiters are now targeting lower- 
middle class minority groups from places with limited economic 
opportunities. However, targeting underprivileged minority 
groups is not a new practice. In 1996, Hispanics made up 11.2% 
of the population, but only 6.9% of the military. The Marine 
Corps made a concerted effort to recruit more Hispanics to 
balance what they called an "underrepresentation." The only 

13 Yochi J. Dreazen, "Marine Corps Speeds Ahead on Growth." Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2008: A 5. 


problem with that drive was that only fifty five percent of 
Hispanics had a high school diploma. 14 

In 1996, African Americans made up twelve percent of the 
nation's population, while representing twenty two percent of 
the military's population. The American Civil Liberties Union 
(ACLU) classifies this overrepresentation as racial targeting. 

As with Hispanics, only seventy five percent of African 
Americans had a high school diploma. These staggering numbers 
have not changed much from the previous decade and the 
undereducated minority groups continue to be targeted according 
to several ACLU reports. 15 Recruiting from minority groups to 
better represent the population is not a bad notion. Targeting 
the uneducated, regardless of race, is where the problems arise. 

Maintaining Our Moral Standards 

Not only are we loosening our academic standards for 
recruits, we are lowering our moral standards as well. The 
Marine Corps allowed sixty eight percent more convicted felons 
into their ranks in 2007 than they did the previous year. This 
includes individuals convicted of armed robbery, arson, 

14 Sherwood Ross, "" November 30, 2008. 

http://www.opednews.eom/articles/Pentagon-Recruiters-Target-by-Sherwood-Ross-081130-674.html (accessed 

December 4, 2008). 

15 Andrea Stone, "Military recruiters target underrepresented Hispanics." USA Today, January 21,1999: 5 A. 


burglary, kidnapping, making terroristic threats, rape or sexual 
abuse, and committing indecent acts or liberties with a child. 

In 2007, 350 recruits had felony convictions on their records, 
up from 208 the previous year. Recruits convicted of burglary 
also rose to 142 from 90, and those who had committed aggravated 
assault increased to 44 from 35. The Chairman of the House 
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Representative 
Henry A. Waxman said, "It raises concerns. An increase in the 
recruitment of individuals with criminal records is a result of 
the strains put on the military by the Iraq war and may be 
undermining our military readiness." 16 Senior military officials 
are quick to point out that only a small percentage, about two 
percent, of Marine recruits require a criminal waiver. Major 
General Milstead, the Marine Corp's top recruiting chief, said, 
"the Marine Corps granted waivers to 46% of its recruits in 
fiscal 2008." Most of these waivers were for drug use however 
and not felony charges. 17 One could argue that General Milstead 
does not alleviate concern by saying forty four percent of the 
Corps is currently serving on drug waivers. There is no reason 
for the Marine Corps to compromise its fundamental principles by 
allowing so many moral waivers each year. 

16 Lizette Alverez, "Army and Marine Corps grant more felony waivers." New York Times, April 22, 2008 

17 William H. McMichael, "Shaky economy helps recruiting, retention." Marine Corps Times, October 14, 2008. 



Not everyone in the United States is concerned with the 
quality of our recruits. James Jay Carafano of the Washington, 
D.C. Heritage Foundation claims, "The enlistment of lower- 
scoring and less-educated people is not a cause for worry." He 
believes people make too much of the argument that more educated 
and higher scoring recruits make better soldiers. In some 
situations, he claims, there is nothing better than having sheer 
numbers on the ground regardless of their education levels. 18 

As the recent quality of recruit has been slipping, there 
is hope in the very near future to turn this trend around. 
History reveals that during times of economic hardship, many 
individuals who would not have considered the military as an 
occupation in better times are walking through recruiters' doors 
ready to enlist. With a larger pool of potential recruits, the 
military services will enjoy higher quality recruits, if only 
for a short period of time until the economy rebounds. 
Calculating the effect of the current financial crisis on 
recruitment is premature according to some military recruiters; 
however, just as before, they expect the weak economy to help 

Dogen Hannah, "Armed Forces face challenge filling ranks in time of war: Some concerned military sacrificing 
quality for quantity by lowering enlistment standards." Tribune Business News, March 18, 2007:1. 


their efforts. Lt Col. Mike Zeliff, the assistant Chief of Staff 

for Marketing and Recruiting is quoted as saying, "The economy 
is probably making more people think about other options, and 
we're probably benefiting from that." 19 


Combat power is no longer measured by how many men are 
dressed in uniforms on the field of battle. The Marine Corps' 
edge comes from its superior technological war machines and 
those highly skilled and trained minds driving them. As 
technology continues to advance, the Corps' fighting men and 
women must advance with it. Instead of lowering the recruiting 
criteria, the Corps should reevaluate the standards to ensure 
the most capable and qualified individuals this country has to 
offer are the ones being enlisted. 

19 Dreazen, "Marine Corps Speeds Ahead on Growth." 


Works Cited 

Alverez, Lizette. "Army and Marine Corps grant more felony 
waivers." New York Times, April 22, 2008. 

Bookshire, Dana L., Anita U. Hattiangadi, and Catherine M. 

Hiatt. Emerging Issues in USMC Recruiting: Assessing the Success 
of Cat. IV Recruits in the Marine Corps. Alexandria, Virginia: 
CNA Corporation, August 2006. 

Dreazen, Yochi J. "Marine Corps Speeds Ahead on Growth." Wall 
Street Journal, December 6, 2008: A 5. 

Editorial. "A Real-World Army." New York Times, Dec 24, 2006: 


Hannah, Dogen. "Armed Forces face challenge filling ranks in 
time of war: Some concerned military sacrificing quality for 
quantity by lowering enlistment standards." Tribune Business 
News, March 18, 2007: 1. 

Hilburn, Matt. "Growing the Force." Sea Power, September 2007: 

14 . 

Hilburn, Matt. "Recruit & Retain." Sea Power, September 2007: 

18 . 

Holmes, Erik. "AF Recruiters Were Highest Quality in DOD." 

Marine Corps Times, October 22, 2008. 

Kirby, Sheila. Enlisted Personnel Management: A Historical 
Perspective. Santa Monica: Rand Corp, 1996. 

McMichael, William H. "Shaky economy helps recruiting, 
retention." Marine Corps Times, October 14, 2008. 

Ross, Sherwood, "" November 
30, 2008. 
Target-by-Sherwood-Ross-081130-674.html (accessed December 4, 

Stone, Andrea. "Military recruiters target underrepresented 
Hispanics." USA Today, January 21, 1999: 5 A. 

Tilghman, Andrew. "Tough times for today's recruiters." Marine 
Corps Times, April 14, 2008. 


Wikipedia. December 10, 2008. 
(accessed December 10, 2008).