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Recruits trending older in U.S. military

Apr. 23, 2014 - 07:14AM   |  
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New recruits in the U.S. military are getting slightly older, with more than half of Army enlistees age 20 or above compared with a few decades ago when only a third were in the older age group, according to a RAND Corp. study released Wednesday.

The trend is a boon for the military because older recruits have a greater tendency to re-enlist and achieve promotions at higher rates than those who join out of high school, the report says.

Many told researchers they delayed signing up for the military in order to attend college. Some 38 percent said they simply wanted to take some time off after high school. About a third of older recruits said they ultimately chose the military because of a weak civilian job market. Half said the market offered nothing but “dead-end jobs.”

“For these recruits, the Army provided a second chance,” says Bernard Rostker, lead author of the study.

Researchers also discovered that the U.S. military is becoming increasingly insular within society because those who join increasingly come from military families or have close friends who served in uniform.

“The U.S. military has become a family business for many Americans,” Rostker says.

Researchers sifted through military entrance processing materials and also surveyed 5,373 Army recruits in 2008 and 2009.

More than eight out of 10 said they had a close relative who served in the military, and nearly half had a close family member who retired from a service branch, the study says. For 38 percent of the recruits, the close family member was a father, for 6 percent a mother.

Some 44 percent of new recruits enlist in the active-duty Army while in high school or shortly afterward, compared with 65 percent in 1992. Twenty-one percent waited until they were ages 20-21; 18 percent were 22-24; 8 percent were 25-27 and 9 percent were 28-42, the data show.

Other service branches saw similar patterns with 52 percent of Navy recruits and half of Air Force enlistees ages 20 or older. Only a third of new Marines are 20 or older.

In the survey, the report says, older Army recruits said that joining the military “gave them an opportunity to leave home and start again — even though they understood that in doing so, they were likely to be deployed to a combat zone. But that didn’t deter them.”

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