LONGVIEW (CNN/KYTX) - It's no longer enough to be patriotic and in-shape. The Pentagon estimates only 1 in 4 of today's young people are fit for military service.
The military is recruiting fewer active-duty soldiers because troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are getting reduced. The sluggish job market also has something to do with it. High unemployment in young people has many of them ready to enlist. Basically, recruiters are getting pickier about who they choose, because they can.
Over the last couple years, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have enlisted their highest-quality recruits since at least 1973, when the military discontinued the draft.
It wasn't always this way. Just six years ago, during the Iraq war surge, the military had lower standards. Only about 86% of new recruits had high-school diplomas, and just 67% of recruits scored in the top 50th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.
Now a whopping 99% of recruits have a high school diploma- an all-time high. The level of fitness has also gotten more competitive.
"One of the challenges that we were facing was my weight." says 26-year-old Kaylon Centers.
He was turned away from boot camp last year because his body fat needed to be 19% or less.
"So, that was something that I had to, you know, immediately address."
So, he did. Centers changed his diet and started logging more time in the gym.
"If you only knew the horrors and the nightmares I've gone through in this place."
And, it paid off.
"I'm in. I just have to wait until December the 3rd and remain qualified. I still have to maintain my weight.
He says recruitment may be getting stricter, but it was worth it for him to meet those guidelines.
"I've always felt the need to, you know, give back. And, you know, what better way to do that than serving your country." says Centers.