For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:
Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.
“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….
The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.
That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.
In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”