Thousands Of ‘Forrest Gumps’ To Join US Navy As It Struggles To Attract Recruits; Doors Now Open For High School Dropouts

During the Vietnam War, the US was recruiting low-IQ men to meet the requirements for the Asian conflict. The recruits were called McNamara Morons. It was initiated by the US Department of Defense to recruit soldiers who would previously have been below military medical standards. The Hollywood movie Forrest Gump was based on this.

Conflicts are raging across the globe and the need for the US Navy has been felt like never before. The US Navy, failing to fill its vacancy, has no choice but to lower its standards.

For the second time in over a year, the US Navy has opened the door to lower-performing individuals to meet its recruitment goals.

The last time the US Navy enlisted recruits without education qualifications was in 2000. Now, with war raging on between Ukraine-Russia and Israel-Hamas, South China turning into a flashpoint, North Korea threatening nuclear armageddon, the Red Sea being made dangerous by Houthi rebels, the Middle East turning into a tinderbox, the US Navy needs to make its presence felt across the globe. And lack of people to fill its vacancy is a critical shortcoming.

According to the Associated Press, the US Navy will now be enlisting individuals who did not graduate from high school or get a GED (General Educational Development) test. GED tests four academic subjects in the US and certifies academic knowledge at par with a high school diploma.

Earlier in December 2022, the US Navy recruited those who scored low on the Armed Services Qualification Test. The steps are rare, but militaries the world over, including the US armed forces, are finding it difficult to attract youngsters to meet the stringent requirements for the military’s “physical, mental and moral standards.”

To make good on the numbers, the US Navy has decided to take in high school dropouts, provided they score 50 or above out of 99 on the qualification test.

The Navy’s chief of personnel, Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman, told the AP in an interview that the force has to turn over thousands of people who come into its recruiting stations every year as they lack education credentials.

In 2023, more than 2,400 recruits were turned away, and out of them, 500 scored enough to get into the service. He said that a new order had already been sent to the recruiters to start enlistment according to the new rule.

“I’m hoping all my recruiters have called all 2,442 of them in the last 72 hours, and we’ll see how it goes … We’ll try to get some test takers this weekend,” Vice Admiral Cheeseman said.

The US Army had loosened its restrictions on neck tattoos and other standards to widen its recruitment pool. In 2022, the Army briefly dropped its requirement for a high school diploma before reverting to the older requirements.

The US Army flagged the concerns that unqualified recruits could cause more disciplinary problems and could wash out at the boot camp itself.

US Navy Ready To Take Risk

The military has been unable to keep up with the high-paying private jobs, and the pandemic has not made it easy for recruiters. During COVID-19, the military had to shut down its recruiting stations, and they were denied entry to high schools and public fairs.

While the US Military finds many people unfit to join forces, Gen Z is not particularly enthused about joining the all-volunteer force and fighting wars in other countries, resulting in the US military recruitment reaching crisis levels.

Most recently, reports came that the UK’s Royal Navy is decommissioning two warships due to a lack of sailors. The news came as the service, along with the US Navy, is joining efforts to contain Houthi Rebels in Yemen.

Dwindling Numbers

The last two decades of war have caused public confidence in the US Army to plummet, with only 60 percent of respondents saying they have confidence in the US military. The Gallup poll statistics are the lowest in over two decades. The US Military personnel were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq during this period.

In 2023, the Navy’s enlistment goal was 37,700, but the service brought in just 31,834. This year, Cheeseman said, he set the goal higher — at 40,600. The total size of the Navy for 2024 is set at 337,800.

“I need these sailors. So, it’s a stretch goal. We’re telling our recruiters to go get 40,600 people to join the Navy,” he said. “We don’t fully expect to get that many. But we’re going for it.”

The only service that recruits those deemed to be in the “category four”—that is, who received a score of 30 or lower on the qualifying exam—is the US Navy.

US Navy South China Sea
Image for Representation

The service increased the number of those category four recruits by claiming that certain positions, like cook or boatswain mate, don’t require an overall high test score as long as the applicant meets the requirements of the position.

In the last fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2023, the Navy, Army, and Air Force all failed to meet their recruitment goals.

The US Congress in 2023 approved a five percent increase in military pay, the highest in the last two decades. The military has pushed the enlistment bonuses as high as US$50,000 and is offering a ‘quick ship’ cash incentive of up to US$35,000 for recruits who leave for basic training within 30 days.

Where Have The Soldiers Gone?

As the US readies its military to counter China in the Indo-Pacific, its forces face a more significant challenge back home. The US Army that enforces the American writ in territories far away from its borders and distant lands now finds it difficult to get people to wear military boots.

In 2022, the US Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Joseph M. Martin, informed a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing that the Army is going to fall by nearly 19,000 soldiers in fiscal 2022, and in 2023, it will be only short of 18,000 people.

The Army is not taking the lowest-scoring candidates into their Future Soldier Prep Course, which helps the potential recruits improve their scores to get enlisted. The Navy is allowing low-scoring individuals to go through the Future Sailor Prep Course without the requirement to increase their score.

The Army and Marine Corps also require a high school diploma or GED, but the US Air Force will not take recruits without a diploma or if they score less than 65 on the qualification test. In 2023, only 110 out of 26,900 Air Force recruits could make the cut.

As Americans ponder where the soldiers have gone, the suggestions to make the Army lucrative for Gen Z include accepting that the youngsters today are more medicated.

Experts also seek relaxation in fitness standards as future warfare might not entail everyone picking a weapon and becoming an infantryman. People in cyber units don’t require the same fitness levels as infantry personnel.

The US controls about 750 bases in at least 80 countries worldwide and spends more on its military than the following 10 countries combined.

The actual number may be even higher as not all data is published by the Pentagon. With 120 active bases, Japan has the highest number of US bases globally, followed by Germany with 119 and South Korea with 73.

These long-distance deployments take a toll on family life, tarnishing the sheen of military jobs.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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