WASHINGTON — Facing recruiting shortages brought on by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has decided to accept a greater number of recruits who score near the bottom of military aptitude tests, the secretary of the Army said Monday.
Coming off a recruiting year in which the Army fell short of its goal of 80,000 active-duty soldiers, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey announced that the Army would allow up to 4% of its recruiting class to be Category IV recruits -- those who scored between the 16th and 30th percentile in the battery of aptitude tests that the Defense Department gives to all potential military personnel.
The Army until now allowed no more than 2% of its recruiting class to be from the Category IV level, fearing that letting too many low-achieving recruits into the Army might dilute the quality of the nation's largest military branch.
The continuing violence in Iraq has made the Army's annual mission to bolster its ranks especially difficult in recent months. The Army fell nearly 7,000 recruits short of its goal for the 2005 fiscal year, which ended Friday. Army officials have said that recruiters might be faced with an even bigger challenge during the current fiscal year.
Harvey insisted that the Army was not lowering its standards but merely conforming to Department of Defense guidelines that allow up to 4% of each military service's recruiting class to be Category IV troops.
Yet one Army official said that the policy change is also a concession to reality. The Army failed to meet its benchmark for 2005, and decided to widen the pool of recruits it could target during the 2006 fiscal year. The Army official spoke on condition of anonymity because the 2005 recruiting figures would not be formally announced until next week.
Before being admitted into the military, a potential recruit takes a group of tests known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The recruits fall into categories based on their performance on the aptitude tests.
Harvey said he saw no reason why the Army standards should be more stringent than Pentagon guidelines, and pointed out that the Army already allows more Category IV troops to join the National Guard than it does the active duty ranks.
"We had sort of an artificial system. When I asked the question how we got there, I never got a straight answer," Harvey told reporters Monday. "They really weren't standards. They were just kind of guidelines," he said.
Harvey spoke to reporters during a convention of the Assn. of the U.S. Army, a private organization that supports active duty and reserve soldiers.
Harvey said the Army would also ease the service's requirement that at least 67% of every recruiting class be made up of recruits who scored in the top half (50th percentile or above) on the aptitude tests. The new threshold would be 60%, Harvey said, in accordance with Defense Department benchmarks.
The Pentagon benchmarks were established to prevent the military services from meeting recruiting quotas by accepting too many people with low IQs. Despite these parameters, the Pentagon allows each service, if it wishes, to set more rigorous standards.
Until the last fiscal year, the Army had few problems staying below the 2% threshold for Category IV recruits. According to data provided by the Army, Category IV recruits comprised less than 1% of the 2003 and 2004 recruiting classes.
The Army's recruiting problems have become more pressing as the violence in Iraq has intensified, scaring potential recruits away. Recruiters in 2005 accepted more individuals whom they might have rejected previously.
Harvey denied Monday that the Army was in the midst of a recruiting crisis, pointing to a series of new initiatives -- including increasing the Army's advertising budget by $130 million and putting 3,000 more recruiters on the streets -- that he hoped would reverse the downward trend.