The U.S. Army needs cyber warriors to defend against attacks on the nation's computer systems. But it is having a hard time finding young Americans who meet all of the requirements for the job. Cyber warrior candidates must have advanced computer skills, want to join the service and meet the Army's current physical fitness standards.
So the Army is studying whether it should have different height and weight standards for soldiers depending on what job they will do. The possible change could permit cyber warriors -- soldiers who fight the enemy in cyberspace -- to have more body fat than soldiers who fight on the battlefield.
Now, all soldiers must meet the same physical standards whether they are cooks, clerks or infantrymen. To remain in the Army, male soldiers between the ages of 17 and 21 must be able to do 35 pushups and 47 sit-ups. They must also run two miles in fewer than 17 minutes. Female soldiers of the same age must reach similar timed targets for pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run.
Major General Allen Batschelet leads the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. The Florida Times Union newspaper reported his comments about possible changes to the Army's standards for some new soldiers.
The newspaper said Gen. Batschelet believes people who are fighting a war in cyberspace may not need to meet the same physical standards as infantrymen. They must still be physically fit, healthy and have a professional appearance, however.
But many young Americans are obese and do not exercise much. Many of them are likely to struggle or fail to pass the Army's physical fitness test without training. Gen. Batschelet did not say how the test might be changed to permit those who cannot pass it -- but who have the computer skills the Army needs -- to join the military.
D. Allen Youngman is a retired U.S. Army major general. He says he knows the Army has a difficult job finding new soldiers at a time when young people are fatter than ever before. But he told VOA he does not think the Army should change its weight standards to attract soldiers with computer skills.
"But I, I, I think a lot of us are really concerned about the idea of having two armies -- you know, one that's physically fit and trained and disciplined and, and the ones we send into harm's way. And the others that, you know, have a somewhat different image, who work from air-conditioned control centers somewhere in the United States that, that don't have to meet those same standards. I don't think we want to do that. And hopefully we won't have to. But one way or another the Army's going to have to fill the boots that it's, you know, of its assigned forces. And, and if we reach that point then I think we will have lost something in society."
Beth Asch is a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, a research group. She studies military recruiting activities. She told VOA that new missions have always forced the Army to study different recruiting methods.
"A few years ago this issue came up in the context of language capability -- that people who had language capability wouldn't necessarily meet other requirements. And the issue there was that people who have language capabilities in the languages we really needed weren't necessarily U.S. citizens or would have passed, you know security clearance-related issues. So these are smaller-scale programs that were very targeted to a specific need and the idea was these people would help meet that need."
The Army told VOA that officials have only talked about possible policy changes. They have not made a decision about changing standards for possible new cyber warriors. A spokesman said, "the Army works in deliberate, careful ways on issues like this, so we don't" believe a change will be made soon.
I'm Christopher Cruise.