U.S. Navy Adds Pre-Boot Camp Program to Help Recruits With Low Fitness

Navy Training Center Great Lakes recruits
Recruits at Navy Training Center Great Lakes, 2021 (USN)

Published Mar 23, 2023 10:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy has added a pre-boot camp "preparatory course" for recruits who do not meet physical fitness standards on entry, adding to the growing list of tools that the service is deploying in an attempt to boost flagging recruitment. 

The new "Future Sailor Preparatory Course" is comparable to a successful new program launched by the U.S. Army, which faces similar recruitment challenges. Few young Americans wish to serve, and even fewer are eligible: past criminal records, physical fitness limitations, low test scores and other factors reduce the size of the applicant pool. Only 23 percent of Americans aged 17-24 meet the criteria for service, according to the Pentagon, and only about 10 percent have an interest in serving. 

The course is aimed at facilitating entrance for applicants who do not meet Navy weight requirements, which allow a maximum of 26 percent body fat for males and 36 percent for females. Applicants who are up to six percent body fat over the standard can apply for a waiver to join the preparatory program, so long as they satisfy all other requirements.

In addition, the Navy plans to add a program to help lower-performing recruits boost their test scores. The service has already reduced its minimum AFQT entrance test score to the lowest level allowable by law, the 10th percentile, so long as the applicant has a high school diploma and qualifies for a rating. 

The decision to lower test standards is controversial, and it has drawn criticism from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.    

"During the Carter Administration, in order to preserve manning levels, the military lowered recruitment standards and retained people who should have been let go. This resulted in a predictable erosion of military readiness," said Sen. Wicker in a hearing Wednesday. "We should not repeat the mistakes of those earlier years during this administration."

The need is significant: The armed forces are on track to hit about 75 percent of their recruiting goals this year, lower than the levels seen in the last recruiting crisis in the 1970s, according to Sen. Wicker. 

“We’re trying to increase the pool, but the standards for performing the job are what is key and what we need to perform our mission, and we have not changed that,” Undersecretary of the Navy Erik Raven said, responding to Wicker's concerns.