WASHINGTON -- Army recruiting is facing "significant challenges" in the current economic climate in its mission to find young Americans qualified for service.
Increasing obesity rates and declining academic qualifications among young people are driving down the number of Americans eligible for service, according to Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, commanding general of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Batschelet spoke to reporters Thursday in a conference call.
"We've been trying to get the word out here that the all-volunteer force and the great service it has provided the country over the last 40-something years is at some risk, due to multiple factors, many of them being societal," he said.
Despite the recruiting challenges, the command is optimistic it can achieve the strategic priorities laid out by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Batschelet said.
Achieving Odierno's vision of Force 2025 is going to require "continued and perhaps enhanced or reinvigorated investment in the all-volunteer force to get that quality," he said.
Only three out of 10 Americans in the 17-to-24 age group are currently eligible for the Army, Batschelet said. That eligibility number, he said, could fall to two out of 10 Americans in that age group by 2020, primarily driven by the obesity rates.
Other factors for ineligibility include past criminal behavior and declining high school graduation rates, he said.
Recruiting operates in a challenging fiscal environment with "declining resources that are available to the Army," he said.
"People are expensive," he said, and more potential recruits want to know about the future of compensation and if an Army career can provide a good quality of life.
"As the economy is beginning to improve, youth unemployment is going down and we are finding ourselves in a competition for high-quality talent," he said.
The Army is investing in modernizing how it goes about recruiting, he said. It continues to highlight the good pay and benefits, and continues to reach out to school and education groups to inform them about "all of the potential careers that one can have inside of the Army."
He notes that all military services, not just the Army, have seen an "erosion of willingness" from schools to let military recruiters in to talk to young people.
Despite all the challenges, he said, there are "some very bright signs on the horizon that we're going to be successful in getting the quality and the volume that we seek in order to deliver on the chief's vision of Force 2025."