(CNSNews.com) - The United States Marine Corps Commandant told Congress on Wednesday that recruitment is "hard work," because so few people are qualified to fill the ranks.
But while recruitment is difficult, "This is a really good Marine Corps," General Robert B. Neller told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense:
"So, I think we're all aware that, you know, in the nation, I mean, it's a strategic issue that less than 30 percent of the young men and women of our nation are qualified just to join the military, either because of physical, mental or moral issues. So now we're down to 30 percent and now we have to find those that have a propensity or are interested in doing this.
"And as there is some growth in the force, we're all out there competing in the same -- looking for the same type of young men or women."
Neller said 99.7 percent of those who join the Marines are high school graduates:
So, they're really smart. They're -- they have a different expectation. They're digital natives. Social media and the things that happen on social media affect them in different ways. I'm not a psychologist, but -- but this is a really good Marine Corps. And I could tell you about the Marine Corps I joined in 1976 and I don't want to be in that Marine Corps; not that there weren't good Marines, but I like this Marine Corps a lot better."
On retention, I was concerned about that last year because for the first time we were really struggling to make our numbers, to keep folks, particularly in our senior enlisted. This year we're -- we're on track to make it. So, whatever happened I think -- I think there was -- because we had an appropriation, we had money for bonuses, even with the economy being what it is, we're keeping enough qualified folks and some of the very best.
So, there are some behaviors -- I mean, I could show you the stats and -- I don't want to take up all the time. I will tell you, though, the one stat that consistently goes down, the number of people that are -- that are involved with illegal drug use. That number continues to go down every year, which is good.
We do struggle -- like all young people, we struggle with alcohol and certain behaviors, because 62 percent of the Marine Corps is 25 years old or less. So, I -- we have the blessing and the curse of youth and all the good things that youth brings and sometimes it is -- we're trying to make these young men and women grow up.
So, we watch this. I'm content with the force. We can always get better. But I think that you -- I mean, if you've traveled around and seen them, I think everybody would be eminently proud of the young men and women that wear the uniform of any service in the United States military.
Neller told the subcommittee that as he was speaking, "34,000 Marines are forward-deployed, some in harm's way, all engaged doing just what you expect them to be doing."