Even as recent as 15 years ago the military (Army, Navy Air Force and Marines) was seen by many as an escape for someone who did not have a education, nor a desire to get one. The enlisted ranks of the military were thought of as an easy opportunity for those less fortunate to have a career and bring home a decent wage. Today’s military is not dumb, in fact the Navy reports that 97.6% of its personnel have at least a GED and 28% have a Bachelors degree or higher. The percentage of Navy personnel with a degree is right on par with the latest census report identifying 29% of adults age 25 or older have at least a Bachelors degree in the United States. Considering the average age of the military is 25, it appears to me that the military is not dumb.
The number one motivator recruiters use to attract would-be soldiers, sailors and marines, are the education benefits. The military spends millions of dollars per year paying for the higher education of its active and reserve components. When I joined the Navy I signed a contract providing me with $20K from the GI bill and $35K from the Navy college fund, to be used towards higher education when completed with my obligated service. As the need for more motivated personnel grows, with it does the incentives the military offers. A degree by no account determines a persons intellectual capabilities but it does show their desire for knowledge and willingness to grow, desired attributes for young military members.
The Marines (sometimes called jarheads) do think for themselves, this is just another misunderstanding about the military that may askew ones thinking. A record 38% of the active duty Marines are currently in pursuit of higher education, and this is during a time of war. There are various career fields within the enlisted ranks of the marines, from some who specialize in developing computer based weapons programs to aircraft mechanics. Yes, there are infantryman but there are also intelligence specialists and mass communication technicians. Those marines who run in to battle with M-16 in-hand are some of the smartest men I know. A General in Iraq had just finished an AAM (after action meeting) and was asking his first line of commanding officers if they had any inputs from the field. A Colonel got up and said that one of his lance corporals (probably 17-19 years old) had a strategy he thought would have worked out better. The Colonel relayed the strategy to the group of senior highly decorated officer and when he had finished, the General stood up with a smile and said that the strategy he just had heard probably never would have been thought of even by his staff of war college and battle trained officers. The Lance Corporal’s strategy was successful during the next mission.
The Naval submarine service is probably the best example of why the military is not “dumb”. Every man on submarine assumes the workload and responsibility of many men to efficiently and safely execute the mission at hand. The youngest most inexperienced member of the crew must have the mental capacity to diagnoses, conclude and execute his duties day to day and in the event of a casualty onboard. The entire crew could be lost by the actions of any single individual. The submarine service does not take the determination of someone’s capacity lightly; they must qualify “submarines” and only then, are they trusted with the lives of the crew and can wear their dolphins on their chest.
The military is not “dumb”. Maybe it’s easier for some to believe this is the case in order to satisfy their conscience for the reason they never served their country. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else believes, because most of us know why were doing what we do and it’s not just for them, it’s for our families and ourselves.