Some bracing facts for Monday: Only one-third of America’s youth meet the minimum qualifications to even join the military and once the recruits are enlisted, another one-third of them wash out before they complete their term of enlistment.

That’s just in terms of physical fitness, psychological stability, and mental aptitude. That means that every year, the military has to enlist 248,000 recruits to produce 169,000 successful airmen, soldiers, sailors, and marines.

Since attrition costs the military $1.7 billion a year in lost investment, there are all sorts of programs to improve psychological assessment of those who do qualify to enlist. The hot program these days is TAPAS — the Tailored Adapted Personality Assessment System. Through better psychological profiling, the military hopes to pick off even more of the unsuitable candidates in the beginning. Then through better and more realistic training — what’s called “integrated, persistent Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) training environments” and immersion training a la the Star Trek Holodeck, they hope to reduce the unit dropout rate as well.

There’s no crisis in the availablility of young people. Since between 4.1 and 4.5 million kids turn 18 every year and the armed forces only need 250,000 to make their numbers, they have a pretty big pool of people to reject. The trick is picking the right people who will survive basic training and then the military life thereafter.

The Army suffers the largest percentage of attrition (and also demands the most enlistees to replenish the force). But even that number is misleadingly low compared to other branches, as close to 40 percent of Army personnel never deploy to a combat zone. The Marine Corps, though it has a higher deployment rate and the most rigorous overall initial training of the services, suffers the lowest attrition rate. This is a tribute to the espirit and care of the smaller service in both selection and care for its people. Smaller is better when it comes to retention, but that matters less when those darn whippersnappers can’t even do a few pushups.

[Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.]