My 21-year-old son, staggered by thousands of dollars in student loan debt, in combination with struggling to stay in college due to his ADHD, recently told me he was giving serious thought to joining the military.

This scared me to death.


Roadside bombs.

Catastrophic brain injuries.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Loss of limb, loss of life, my only child returned to me in a flag-draped coffin.

Evidently I’m not the only mom who feels this way and may be influencing such decisions. Recruitments are at an all time low. In the fifth year of the war in Iraq, the percentage of young people who say they plan to join the military is just 16 percent.

And so, the military is sweetening the pot with a smorgasbord of new incentives.  

These may include allowing new enlistees to use up to $45,000 of their service earnings tax free to help build a business or buy a home. Their service could mean money for college or to pay off student loans.

Some in America’s all-volunteer Army may soon be older, fatter, less educated and have been in trouble with the law. Rules for such things are being loosened, according to a review conducted by the Associated Press. The A.P. reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to increase the size of the active-duty Army by 65,000 to a total of 547,000 within five years, in part to ease the wartime strain on the Army, the largest branch of the military.

The incentives to be offered are being called an updated version of the Army’s college fund. The program was started in 1982 to help soldiers pay for college. A pilot program the Army wants to start would identify 500 people who might not otherwise enlist. Those who complete a 4-year stint would be eligible for up to $30,000 in incentives — including money for a home loan or business. If the plan flies, the offer would eventually be increased to $45,000.

Factors influencing low recruitment include that more high school graduates are going to college or finding jobs. Compounding that is the shortfall in eligible recruits who meet the military’s standards. Of those ages 17 to 24, only 3 in 10 “measure up.”  ‘Til now, such things as obesity and ADHD were disqualifiers, as were certain criminal citations.

According to A.P., changes that have already helped attract more recruits include:

• Increasing to $20,000 the bonus for troops who join by Sept. 30 and leave for boot camp within a month.

• Increasing to more than 15 percent the number of Army and Army Reserve troops given waivers for medical and moral reasons or for positive drug and alcohol screen tests.

• Enlisting recruits who don’t meet weight standards and must trim down their first year.

• Advertising that targets potential recruits’ parents.

• Creating a more pleasant boot camp environment.

• Raising the enlistment age to 42.

• Allowing recruits to come in with non-offensive tattoos on their hands and neck.

• Offering a $2,000 bonus to Army soldiers who refer a new recruit.

• Increasing the number of recruits with general education diplomas rather than regular high school diplomas.

A 2005 survey has revealed that due to the war in Iraq, not only parents, but coaches, teachers and counselors are less likely to suggest that young people they care about enlist – a shift, say those in the Defense Department, that hurts the military and the country.

Those interested in learning more about incentives to join the service can visit

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer/editor. Read her articles at and her columns at Contact her at    


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