Tom Philpott: Military taps dropouts, cooks books

So I was doing a bit of what's known as "ego-surfing" (googling oneself) while procrastinating writing a column, and I came across an interesting tidbit by a fellow who happens to be named Tom Philpott, who writes about military affairs and not food politics.

It regards how the military has had to sweep an ever broader net to find recruits for Iraq duty -- drawing in thousands of high school dropouts while also cooking the books to hide the practice. This guy's no leftist, reformed or otherwise; just a guy who makes a living writing about soldiers for soldiers and their families. Check it out.

A wartime Army struggling to attract enough “quality” volunteers is enlisting additional thousands of high school dropouts using an experimental screening tool to identify those most likely to complete their enlistments.

The Two Tier Attrition Screen (TTAS) is an added “quality indicator” that officials hope will allow the Army take in many more high school dropouts with greater confidence they won’t drive up attrition rates.

Years of research have shown that high school dropouts are more prone to be discipline problems in service and to be discharged early. The first-term attrition rate for non-graduates typically is 50 percent, almost double that of high school diploma graduates.

In fiscal 2006, which ended Sept. 30, the Army brought in 5900 non-high school graduates as TTAS (pronounced T-TAS) recruits. Not only do such recruits help the Army reach its numerical recruiting goals but the Army can exclude these recruits when calculating the percentage of high school diploma graduates recruited, which is an important quality measure.

For example, the Army announced last month that 81 percent of its non-prior service recruits for 2006 were high school graduates. That was disturbingly below the 90 percent Department of Defense standard for every service. But the proportion of high school graduates would have been reported as 74.3 percent if the Army had to count the 5900 TTAS enlistees high school dropouts. The number instead is ignored.

In March, Defense officials gave the Army permission to sign up 8000 TTAS recruits a year to ease increasingly difficult recruiting challenges.

The Army began to recruit up to 4000 specially screened non-graduates, and to exclude them from quality calculations, in fiscal 2000. The recruits needed to pass a high school equivalency exam, called the GED. They also were screened using a special test to assess motivation, developed by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.

The “GED-Plus” recruits, as they were called, had attrition rates not much lower than that of high school dropouts. So in April 2005, the Army fielded TTAS, an improved screening tool. It combines a better motivation test with minimum score requirements on the math and word-knowledge portions of the military entrance exam. Finally, TTAS screens non-diploma recruits using weight-to-height proportions also called a body mass index.


Nadir said...


Your cousin provides some interesting information. The real question will become how do the lowered standards affect soldiers on the battlefield. Will their decision-making and problem solving skills hold muster? Can they read a map?

With the fatigue and frustration a lot of troops will feel after their 3rd rotation in Iraq, discipline will be a very important factor. These changes could potentially be very dangerous.

Of course, if you're going to field a volunteer army in an unpopular war, you've got to get your soldiers from somewhere. There are others who are now calling for the abolition of "don't ask, don't tell" which would allow gays and lesbians to officially enter the military. Beggars really can't be choosers...

Paul Hue said...

These recruits tend not to get assigned as official combat troops, as far as I know; they enable those volunteering for such duty to go to the front.

I remain unconvinced that Bush II made the best choice, or even a good choice, in launching this war, and fully convinced that he made mistakes in its implementation.

Paul Hue said...

I imagine many cooks and dropouts would benefit from a stint in the US military.

Is the US military attempting to do something worthwhile in Iraq? Some, including our own Vassar (and some other friends of mine) say yes, and I believe them.