The Army draws a disproportionate number of recruits from the South, a region of the country known for high rates of obesity and physical inactivity, which represents a threat to both national security and military readiness.
An Army college in Charleston, S.C., found that recruits from states in the South are usually in poorer physical condition than recruits from other states, according to a study from The Citadel published Tuesday. The findings are not especially surprising given that the South in general is known for higher rates of physical inactivity and obesity.
The difficulty, however, is that the Army ends up recruiting a high percentage of soldiers from southern states.
Researchers discovered that Army recruits from the ten state cluster of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas are significantly less fit and more likely to suffer injuries during training. For example, training-related injuries (TRIs) increased by 22 percent for males and 28 percent for females from these states, compared to the rest of the country.
This injury rate poses a national security risk as TRIs are believed to be the greatest threat to military readiness. These injuries also impose deep fiscal costs. Every recruit who dropped out due to injury cost the government $31,000 in 2005 dollars, according to the study.
Moreover, the Veterans Health Administration had to pay out $5.5 billion in 2001 to help military personnel with musculoskeletal injuries, showing yet another area where TRIs cost the system.
“Given the economic and tactical impact of TRIs on military readiness, results from this study demonstrate the disproportionate burden that certain states are having on national security,” the authors note.
Army Recruiting Command has its sights set on recruiting 80,000 new soldiers in 2018 after years of drawdowns. But according to officials, that kind of recruitment goal has never been achieved in the past without changing various Pentagon standards on education, crime, fitness, and drug use, among other indicators, that keep large swathes of the population out of the military.
Only 23 percent of age-eligible people in the United States are qualified to join the military, which is down from 50 percent in World War II, though of course physical fitness is only one reason why applicants are excluded from the military.
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