Military Age Restrictions: How Old is Too Old to Serve?

Military age restrictions fuel debates.

In an era when people are living longer and staying healthier much later in life, should the military have age restrictions?

Last month, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun Jr. (R-GA), tried to push through legislation that would allow people of any age to join the military as long as they could meet the minimum health and fitness requirements. The House voted 256-164 against the military age restrictions measure.

Broun introduced the bill after speaking with an unnamed ultra-marathon runner who was denied enlistment in the Army for being a few months over the maximum age. He was also petitioning on behalf of his Congressional colleague and fellow Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey, who tried to volunteer as a military doctor and was rejected despite his experience as an obstetrician. Gingrey will turn 70 in July.

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Young at Heart

At age 66, Broun still serves as a doctor in the Navy Reserve. In an interview with Army Times, he called the enlistment age cap “an arbitrary policy.”

“There are people who want to serve and are physically fit,” he said. “There are some 20-year-olds who cannot run a mile.”

In general, the Defense Department restricts enlistment to those 35 and younger. Prior enlisted service members can subtract their previous years of service from their age in order to extend eligibility. For example, the current age cutoff in the Air Force is 27. This means that a 31-year-old veteran with four years of prior service experience would still be eligible to reenlist.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) of the Armed Services Committee personnel panel has said the “risks outnumbered gains” when it came to enlisting older personnel. She said they are not only more likely to become injured, but also take more time to recover than their younger counterparts.

Other Considerations

On one side, I can see the merits of having older, more experienced soldiers in the ranks, especially if they are just as physically capable (if not more so) than the younger generation. And when it comes to a job like doctor, it doesn’t make sense to exclude someone because of their age.

On the other hand, it is difficult for me to imagine how a 43-year-old enlistee would get along with peers who were less than half his age. There are also the incredible physical demands of the military, especially when it comes to jobs like infantry.

Considering the extensive troop cuts the Defense Department is planning over the next few years, it may ultimately make sense for the military to continue to enforce the age restrictions and give the younger generation a chance to serve.

Photo courtesy of familiymwr