The Pentagon says that if all 34 million Americans aged 17 to 24 tried to join the military, it would reject more than two-thirds of them for being fat, uneducated, felonious, on drugs, or for assorted other reasons—even before it got around to weeding out the ones with neck tattoos. "The quality of people willing to serve has been declining rapidly," complains the commanding general of US Army Recruiting Command, which estimates that 71% of today's young people would fail to qualify for service, not including those turned down because of tattoos, ear gauges, or other cosmetic issues.
Around a quarter of high school graduates don't have the basic math and reading skills needed to pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test, the military says, but the biggest reason for disqualification is obesity. In the past, a "drill sergeant could literally run the weight off a soldier as part of the regular training program," a retired major tells the Wall Street Journal, but now, people who are 50 pounds or more overweight turn up at recruiting offices. Military recruiters, aided by enlistment bonuses, have still been meeting their targets in recent years, even though the general in charge of recruiting estimates that only 1% of American youth are both "eligible and inclined to have a conversation with us."