Sen. Tom Cotton urges Military to Expand Eligibility Criteria Amid Recruitment Crisis
March 24, 2023

In a recent press conference, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas called for changes to military recruiting rules to address what he sees as a growing problem of recruitment shortfalls.

According to Undersecretary of the Army, the percentage of Americans eligible for Army service declined from 29% to 23% over the past decade. During fiscal year 2022, the Army gained around 45,000 new soldiers, which is below its goal of 60,000 soldiers.

The Air Force expects to miss its active duty recruitment goal by as much as 13%, or over 3,000 airmen, due to competition with the private sector and a declining public interest in considering a military career. Military branches face limited access to young people during the coronavirus pandemic and reduced eligibility to serve.

Cotton is no stranger to the military, having served as a captain in the U.S. Army before entering politics. In his press conference, he emphasized the importance of having a strong and capable military to protect the country and maintain its status as a global superpower.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he called on branches to reconsider eligibility measures for young people, adding that the current waiver process to qualify can be a lengthy process. “We should find ways to help young men and women be eligible for our services, not try to find ways to keep them out.”

One of the main changes that Cotton proposed is lowering the minimum age for enlistment from 17 to 16. He argued that many 16-year-olds are already legally allowed to drive, work, and pay taxes, so they should also be allowed to serve their country if they choose to do so. He also suggested that 16-year-olds could be allowed to enter a delayed-entry program, where they would receive training and preparation for military service before actually enlisting.

Cotton also called for more flexibility in the recruitment process to allow for greater consideration of technical skills and aptitudes. He argued that the military needs more personnel with expertise in areas such as cyber-security and artificial intelligence, and that the current recruitment process does not do enough to identify and attract these candidates.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, echoed Cotton’s concerns, “I’m not advocating for lowering standards to the point where it endangers safety or the effectiveness of the Army,” King said. “The waiver process is fine, except it’s a waiver process and it involves a lot of steps and a lot of time. Somebody might just say, ‘To heck with it. I’ve got a good offer over here in the private sector.'”

The senator’s proposals have generated some controversy, with critics arguing that lowering the minimum age for enlistment could be dangerous and that the military already has a difficult enough time ensuring that young recruits are physically and emotionally ready for service.

It remains to be seen whether Cotton’s proposals will gain traction in Congress, but his call for changes to military recruiting rules has sparked an important conversation about the future of the U.S. military and the best ways to ensure that it remains strong and effective in the years to come.

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