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Assessing Fitness for Military Enlistment: Physical, Medical, and Mental Health Standards
early 2000s, all the Services were meeting their goals; however, in the first half of calendar year 2005, both the Army and the Marine Corps experienced recruiting difficulties and, in some months, shortfalls. This was due to a combination of factors, including a decline in unemployment rates, increasing accession demand, and the effect of the ground troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. When recruiting goals are not being met, scientific guidance is needed to inform policy decisions regarding the advisability of lowering standards and the impact of any change on training time and cost, job performance, attrition, and the health of the force.
The first focus of the committee was (1) to examine trends in the attitudes, aptitudes, and aspirations of American youth relative to education and ability standards set by the Services and (2) to explore the competition from other options available to youth after high school, such as jobs in the private sector and higher education. In 2003, the committee produced a report on this topic (National Research Council, 2003). The current focus of the committee is on (1) the health and physical fitness of American youth as they relate to current screening standards and (2) the validity of these standards for predicting attrition, injury, and performance in training and on the job.
Some important questions follow. Is there a scientific basis for existing standards, and should they be modified on the basis of characteristics of today’s youth or the new medical treatments available to them? Are there changes to training or health-related support services that should be considered to supplement screening standards? What are the cost implications of modifying physical, medical, and mental health screening standards for recruits?
CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE
The objective of the current project is to critically examine the current physical, medical, and mental health standards for military enlistment in light of (1) trends in the physical condition of the youth population; (2) medical advances for treating certain conditions, as well as knowledge of the typical course of chronic conditions as young people reach adulthood; (3) the role of basic training in physical conditioning; (4) the physical demands and working conditions of various jobs in today’s military services; and (5) the measures that are used by the Services to characterize an individual’s physical condition. The focus is on the enlistment of 18- to 24-year-olds and their first term of service. There are five related subtasks geared to DoD’s need for guidance on physical, mental, and medical standards for enlistment that form the charge to the committee: