Our Soldiers Are Smart


Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines today are the smartest we’ve ever had
by W. Thomas Smith Jr.

Left, troops in Iraq hold a sign they made that reads, “Halp us Jon Carry-We R stuck hear N Irak.”

In the wake of Sen. John Kerry’s public gaffe regarding how smart our soldiers in Iraq might or might not be; the question in the minds of most voters beyond whether not the Massachusetts Senator’s comments were intentionally maligning American soldiers or not seems to be “how smart are our soldiers?”

The answer is, “very.”

In the modern American military, between 93 and 95 percent of current recruits have high school diplomas, compared with 75 to 85 percent of their military-age civilian counterparts. Those averages are based on far too many studies to cite here, but no one on either side of the political fence is disputing the numbers though some may not want to promote them as much as others yet it is only one measure of just how smart our young men and women in uniform truly are.

According to a U.S. Department of Defense document, Who is Volunteering for Today’s Military, “nearly two-thirds of today’s recruits are drawn from the top-half of America in math and verbal aptitudes.”

There’s a reason for that…


As I reported in my piece, The American Warrior – Part II – Why American warriors will defeat the terrorists, “Soldiers and sailors in today’s armed forces have to be smart. They are all taught to lead if their own leaders are killed or incapacitated, to operate independently if separated from their units, and to think outside of the box under conditions of extreme stress and fatigue.”

Then there is the specific-cognitive skills factor.

There is this ageless misconception about what some of my colleagues have affectionately referred to as the “poor bloody infantry” – the foot-borne riflemen who have to kick in the doors and go toe-to-toe with the enemy – and the mis-belief is that those soldiers are not as smart as other soldiers who might be working in technical occupational specialties. There is a perception by those who have never worn the uniform that infantrymen simply have to be strong, quick, tough, brave, and capable of putting a bullet in a target several hundred yards downrange.

True. They have to be all those things. But a young infantry soldier in the 21st century also has to be able to effectively operate or work with sophisticated night-vision equipment, optics and sensors, robotics, computers, printouts, topographical maps, GPS receivers, radios, satellite phones, and a variety of high-tech weapons systems all while under great physical and emotional stress.

And we’ve just been discussing young enlisted soldiers who a year earlier might have been playing on their high school football team or concerning themselves with girls, cars, or report cards. What about the young officers who lead them?

According to a just-published study by Dr. Tom Kane with the Heritage Foundation, “In 2004, 92.1 percent of active-duty officer [commissioned officers, lieutenants and above] accessions held baccalaureate degrees or higher. From 2000 to 2005, between 10 percent and 17 percent of active-duty officer accessions held advanced degrees, and between 35 percent and 45 percent of the active-duty officer corps held advanced degrees. This indicates that officers continued their educa­tion during the course of their mili­tary service.”

Moreover, the study indicates approximately seven percent of enlisted recruits between 2003 and 2005 have some college under the belts coming into the military, and 11 percent of active-duty enlistees in 2004 had some college experience. Many of today’s enlisted soldiers in fact hold degrees prior to entering service.

Fact is, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines today are smart: The smartest we’ve ever had, and certainly the brightest bunch on average taken from those in the general population who age-wise are eligible for military service. Numbers don’t lie, though politicians might.


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