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Navy now accepting recruits with lowest test scores allowed

Recruits at Naval Training Center Great Lakes Recruit Division 247 at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., July 1, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Charles E. White)
December 08, 2022

The U.S. Navy is now enlisting prospective sailors whose entrance test scores are the lowest allowed by military standards as nearly every branch struggles to meet their recruiting goals.

All U.S. military branches struggled with recruiting in the 2022 fiscal year. Now the Navy has changing its guidelines to allow it to enlist up to 7,540 sailors – 20 percent of its 2023 recruiting goal – from so-called “Category IV” recruits, Stars and Stripes reported. Category IV recruits are those that hold high school diplomas who scored between the tenth and thirtieth percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

That Category IV score range is the lowest from which the Pentagon allows military branches to enlist new recruits, according to Stars and Stripes.

The Navy hopes lowering that standard will help reach its goal of enlisting 37,700 sailors in the new fiscal year that began in October, Stars and Stripes reported. That’s an increase of 4,300 from the Navy’s previous goal, which it barely met, surpassing it by only 42 sailors.

The AFQT is one part of a broader series of tests called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which measures various skills to find recruits suitable military jobs. But AFQT scores “determine your eligibility for enlistment” at all, according to a military fact sheet. 

A recruit’s AFQT score is a combination of their scores on the ASVAB’s tests for word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning, and mathematics knowledge, according to the fact sheet.

A Navy official told Stars and Stripes that leaders expect to accept only about 2,000 recruits under this new policy out of a maximum of 7,540.

Recruits with low AFQT scores will have to balance those out with high scores in other areas, Navy Recruiting Command spokesman Cmdr. David Benham told Stars and Stripes.

The Navy’s lowered AFQT standards will be reevaluated when the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2023, according to Stars and Stripes.

All military branches struggled with recruiting in 2022 but the U.S. Army saw the biggest struggles, missed its goal by a record-breaking 25 percent margin this year. The Army similarly tried broadening its pool of potential recruits by dropping its high school diplomas, but reversed that plan after only a week under public backlash.

This year, the Navy barely passed its active-component enlisted recruiting goal 33,400 new enlisted sailors, bringing in 33,442 sailors in total. While it barely met it’s active enlisted recruiting goal, the Navy missed its 2,507 active-duty officer goal number by 209 officers.

The service’s reserve component also saw shortfalls. By the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the Navy Reserve had recruited 5,442 new recruits of its 7,400-recruit goal. The Navy Reserve also brought in 982 new officers out of its goal of 1,360.

In addition to missing some of its 2022 recruiting goal, the Navy has also exhausted its Delayed Entry Program (DEP) pool to the lowest level in decades. In a typical year, military services will be able to meet their recruiting goals and then have more prospective recruits held over in the DEP to begin shipping out in the next recruiting year.

The Navy has said its DEP is at “critically low levels” and a third of the pool is comprised of high-schoolers who cannot ship out to boot camp until they graduate in the spring of 2023.

Last month, the Navy also raised its maximum enlistment age to 41 in another effort to boost recruiting.