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Uncle Sam wants you -- but many deemed ineligible

WASHINGTON -- Uncle Sam wants you, the famous Army recruiting poster says.

But does he really?

Not if you're a Ritalin-taking, overweight, Generation Y couch potato, or some combination of the above. As for the fashionable ''body art," which the military still calls a tattoo, having one is grounds for rejection, too.

With US casualties rising in wars and with more opportunities in an improved economy, many young people are shunning a career in the armed forces. But recruiting is still a two-way street. And the military, too, doesn't want most people in the prime recruiting age group of 17 to 24.

Of some 32 million Americans in this group, the Army deems the vast majority too overweight, too uneducated, too flawed in some way, according to its estimates for the current budget year.

''As you look at overall population and you start factoring out people, many are not eligible in the first place to apply," said Doug Smith, spokesman for Army Recruiting Command.

David R. Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, is among those who believe the military is trying to deflect blame for low recruitment. ''Recruiters are looking for reasons other than themselves, so they blame the pool," Segal said.

The projected pool of shrinks to 13.6 million, when only high school graduates and those who score in the upper half on a military service aptitude test are considered.

Other reasons for exclusion: obesity, a lack of physical fitness, the use of Ritalin and other stimulants to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, other medical problems, criminal histories, and having too many dependents.

That leaves 4.3 million fully qualified potential recruits and an estimated 2.3 million more who might qualify if given waivers for certain problems. Fifteen percent of recruits received such waivers in the last federal budget year.

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