The Air Force is lowering its standards to counter dismal recruitment numbers, as the military’s pool of eligible recruits continues to shrink.
The Air Force will now recruit men with up to 26 percent body fat and women with up to 36 percent, an increase from the previous standards of 20 percent and 28 percent, respectively. The branch is expected to fall short of its recruitment goal by 10 percent this year, Fox News reported.
“While recruits will be allowed to join with greater body fat percentages, they will still be expected to meet the same fitness standards as everyone else to stay in the service,” said Air Force Recruiting Service spokeswoman Leslie Brown.
The new standards for body fat percentage would permit overweight recruits to join the Air Force. “Women with more than 30 percent body fat and men with more than 25 percent body fat are considered obese,” according to Penn Medicine. Between ages 20 and 39, it is unhealthy for men to have more than 19 percent body fat and for women to have more than 32 percent body fat, per the American College of Sports Medicine.
The Department of Defense has relaxed restrictions against recruits with mental and behavioral disorders as over 77 percent of young Americans are currently deemed unfit for military service. In most cases, young people treated for anxiety or depression are ineligible to enlist.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen Mark Herling said the military has struggled to bring in recruits due to “physical inactivity, obesity, and malnutrition among our nation’s youth.” The United States has a growing epidemic of obesity, with more than half of Americans aged 18 to 25 being overweight.
The Air Force recruitment changes come as Biden’s Pentagon pushes for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the military. Veterans and lawmakers argue that these measures are also hurting recruitment, which Biden administration officials dispute.
“When I served, color of skin, gender, it didn’t matter—we were all soldiers,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), who served in the Iowa Army National Guard. “And so, we have an administration that’s trying to make it an issue and is driving a wedge between service members, and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
The Pentagon has funneled $114 million into DEI programs this year.
“The perception today is of a military increasingly captured by a political agenda, leaving some to forego military service,” said Brent Sadler, a Navy veteran and senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense. “The nation is weaker for this.”
Gilbert Cisneros, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, argued in a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing that “diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to unit cohesion and trust.” Cohesion fostered by DEI is necessary “to deter and defeat adversaries,” he said.
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