Military leaders worry America’s youth are still too fat or dumb to fight

"Without coordinated action, these trends pose a significant threat to the future of the all-volunteer force."
Jared Keller Avatar
New Soldiers arriving for their first day of Basic Combat Training, Aug. 19, with Company F, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment on Fort Jackson, S.C. are "welcomed" by drill sergeants from both the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve. The reserve drill sergeants are from the 98th Training Division (IET), 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training) currently fulfilling their 29-day annual training commitment. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton/ released)

Young Americans are increasingly too overweight or undereducated to join the U.S. military, according to a growing number of both retired and active-duty military leaders.

In a Dec. 17 letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Christoper Miller, Mission: Readiness — a nonpartisan organization of nearly 800 retired admirals and generals — warned that 71 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible for military service “because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a history of crime or substance abuse.”

While Mission: Readiness has sought to hammer this point home to active-duty military leaders in recent years, this letter to Miller is different. In it, the group urged the acting defense secretary to stand up an advisory committee on military recruitment to “create a long-term strategy to address the biggest disqualifiers for military service.”

The proposed committee, which matches a recommendation to the Pentagon from lawmakers in the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, would work with the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice to address underlying factors like obesity, lack of education, and criminality and their impact on recruitment.

Those factors “largely fall outside of the Department of Defense’s purview, but have an immense impact on the ability of the military to recruit new service members as well as a significant monetary impact on the Department,” wrote former Air Force Gen. William M. Fraser and former Coast Guard Adm. James M. Loy in Mission: Readiness’s letter to Miller.

“Without coordinated action, these trends pose a significant threat to the future of the all-volunteer force.”

Mission: Readiness isn’t the only group of military leaders seriously concerned with the state of U.S. military recruitment: Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, warned in 2018 that obesity was the largest reason for the service to disqualify future soldiers.

More recently, reported that both Navy and Marine Corps officials responsible for recruiting have expressed concern over the factors underlined in the group’s letter to Miller.

“It is something that, as a nation, we should continue to work though … to make sure our children are healthier,” Navy Recruiting Command chief Rear Adm. Dennis Velez told in a recent interview.

Indeed, Marine Corps Recruiting Service chief Maj. Gen. Jason Bohm went as far as to warn that far fewer than 30 percent of eligible young Americans are suited to join the service.

“If you break it down further into those skill sets, intelligence level, and the physical ability level, those that we’re looking toward bringing into the Marine Corps … quickly decreases to about 7 percent,” Bohm told “That’s enormously challenging.”