9 Investigates: 75 percent of young people unqualified to join military, officials say

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — As the war is waged in the Middle East, the military is facing challenges in recruiting.

A spokesman for the Marine Corps said studies show nearly 75 percent of young people are unqualified for service.

Channel 9 traveled to Parris Island, South Carolina, to learn more about the challenges recruits face and the challenges recruiters face.

The mission of Parris Island is written on a water tower high above its grounds. The sign proclaims, “We Make Marines.”

For more than a century, new recruits have traveled to the base for basic training.

Before they make it to a stately graduation ceremony, they undergo a transformation that is, by most accounts, grueling.

“The first day lasted about three days, is kind of how it feels,” said Pfc. Parker McGinnis. “You don’t get much sleep, you don’t eat a whole lot.  It’s kind of a whirlwind the whole time.”

It’s a whirlwind McGinnis signed up for after a friend asked what he was proud of.

“Once he asked me that question: ‘What can you be proud of?’ I realized I needed to do something that was definitely a higher calling, I guess, or something I could grab onto and be proud of,” McGinnis said.

Over the 13 weeks of basic training, new recruits wake up at 4 a.m. They start their day with an hour, sometimes more, of intense physical training.

The training is in hand-to-hand combat. They also are forced to conquer their fears in obstacle courses all over the island.

“We're trying to build something here. We're trying to build disciplined Marines,” said Sgt. Justin Smith.

Recruits are taught to move with purpose and are given very specific rules, even during mealtime.

Maj. Charlie Nash said they’re making Marines capable of fighting our nation’s toughest battles.

“There's probably not been a more important time in our history to prepare for our national defense,” Nash said.

He admits it’s a challenge finding young people willing to do the job.

A study by the nonprofit group Mission Readiness said about 90 percent of America’s youth are disinterested in military service, and 75 percent of potential recruits are unqualified for service due to medical, moral or educational factors.

Nash said, however, many young people have a desire to serve.

“They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” he said.

McGinnis said he’s now living out that higher calling, and to him, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifice.

“I believe having the discipline instilled in me is going to stay with me forever,” he said. “Once it's in there it's hard to get out.”