Pentagon Rebuts AFP Claim Military Recruiters Prey on Poor, Uneducated

Hasn't the MSM learned anything from the unfortunate episodes of John "stuck in Iraq" Kerry and Stephen "if you don't read you've got the Army" King? Apparently not. Once again, the liberal media, this time in the form of the AFP, has perpetrated the canard that the our military is the last resort of the poor and uneducated. An AFP article of May 16 reported the story of Army sergeant Matthis Chiroux, who has refused deployment to Iraq, claiming he considers it "an illegal war."

Chiroux has said that he was "from a poor, white family from the south, and I did badly in school."

And how did AFP describe such young people? As:

[T]he kind of young American US military recruiters love.

BS, I'd say, based on everything I know about military recruiting. But let's let Bill Carr—the Dep. Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Policy [pictured here]—respond, as he has in a NewsBusters exclusive.

The writer's assertion—that bad students from poor families is what "US military recruiters love"—is more journalistic myth. It's callous and it's false.

Today, as in years past, only the poorest quintile of families is under-represented among military recruits. Children of top quintile earners are represented in exactly their proportionate share, with middle-class earners over-represented to offset the short contribution of lowest-earning families.

Moreover, over 90 percent come to the military with a traditional high school diploma—something achieved only by about 75 percent of American youth. Two-thirds are drawn from the top-half of American in math/verbal aptitude.

This yields a military that is firmly middle-class, with education and aptitudes far above average. Those are the facts. The journalist's assertion is simply wrong, and sloppy.

Awaiting the AFP retraction and apology for its insult to the men and women who volunteer for our military, and the people who recruit them . . .

BONUS COVERAGE: Webb Proposal Would Wreck Retention

The MSM is criticizing the Pentagon and the Bush administration for its opposition to legislation proposed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) that would dramatically increase educational and related benefits for veterans. As an example of MSM criticism, see the CBS article, "Pentagon Balks At New G.I. Education Bill," which opens with this loaded line:

Veterans groups say it's time to expand college aid for GIs, and Democrats want to use an election year to do it. Their biggest obstacle? The Pentagon.

But as USA Today [which no one would accuse of being uncritical Pentagon flacks] has editorialized [emphasis added]:

[The Webb proposal] is an appealing package, particularly in an election year and at a time when servicemembers have borne the brunt of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are only two problems with it: It's not affordable, and it would worsen the volunteer military's already serious problem with retention.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the plan would cost $51.8 billion in the next 10 years, piling a costlier entitlement program onto the nation's already unsustainable mountain of debt.

Moreover, the generous benefits in the Webb approach would lure 8,000 soldiers a year out of the Army, a top Pentagon manpower official says. Although those same benefits might attract 2,000 more soldiers, that still leaves a 6,000-soldier gap that could cost $100 million a year in new retention bonuses to fill.

An alternative approach, backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the Bush administration, is more closely tailored to the needs of today's volunteer military. Veterans leaving active service would see their monthly education benefits rise to $1,500, enough to cover the average public university. To boost retention, this plan would allow members who served six years or more to transfer part or all their post-service education benefits to a spouse or child. There's no official cost estimate for this alternative, but government analysts had calculated that such a program would run $1 billion to $2 billion a year.

Comments a top administration official to NewsBusters:

  • There are several GI bill proposals under consideration in both the House and Senate, including one by Senator Webb. The President cannot support the Webb bill because it does not support the top priority of today's all-volunteer force (transferability), and Secretary Gates believes its high benefit for limited service will undercut retention. .
  • Today's all-volunteer force is very different from the conscript force of WWII, Korea, and the early days of the Cold War. The military actively supports the attainment of educational goals while on active duty. It does not ask the military member to wait to go back to school—worse, to have to leave service in order to pursue a college education. In addition to educational benefits provided through the current GI bill, DoD invests about $700 million annually to offer funded education opportunities to more than 400,000 members of the armed forces each year.
  • The President does support an alternative GI Bill expansion proposed by Senators Graham, Burr, and McCain because it allows for the transferability of education benefits and calibrates an increase in education benefits to time in the service. This and other alternative proposals better reflect what military families want, and are consistent with the principles of an all-volunteer force.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.