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Senate Report: “Non-Native English Recruits Being Left Behind”

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

An analysis by JNCL of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act finds concern among top military officials of the language-readiness of the all-volunteer service.

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee voiced concerns about the language-readiness of the United States military, as well as the “acute strain” on the military’s recruitment of English Language Learners (ELLs).

The report is part of the massive $750-billion defense spending bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA), which passed the Senate (86-8) on June 27.

In the report, the Committee directs the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to study the military’s current “investment in national security human capital.” The report, due to both chambers on March 1, 2020, will identify and summarize current Department of Defense (DoD) programs that educate and recruit personnel who possess “critical skills,” including “critical languages.”

The committee acknowledges the clear recommendations of the National Defense Strategy, National Defense Strategy Commission Report, and Defense Innovation Board report emphasizing the growing need for investment in human capital to support U.S. national security objectives. […] The committee is eager to identify additional opportunities to support initiatives with the goal of increasing the number of Americans who have the skills required to advance national security. NDAA FY2020 Report, p. 260

The report also calls on DoD to assess the “acute strain” that the nation’s all-volunteer military service is experiencing with regards to recruiting enough qualified service members after 17 years at war. The committee is concerned that many potential recruits, especially non-native English speakers, are being left behind.

Recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee met with top army recruiters who voiced frustrations with the military’s aptitude test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). According to, the ASVAB is a “timed multi-aptitude test” which determines an individuals qualification for the military.

While the ASVAB identifies qualified recruits, it leaves many would-be highly qualified recruits behind, specifically those who do not speak English as a native language. Due to the timed nature of the test and nuances of language, many non-native English speakers do not pass, even though their academic records in American high schools are strong. NDAA FY2020 Report, p. 186

The Senate has accordingly directed the Secretary of Defense to evaluate the enlistment testing practices, including the ASVAB, in properly screening and identifying high-potential recruits. The review is due to both chambers’ committees by April 1, 2020.

This review should analyze and take into account methods of measuring academic potential being used across local school districts in the United States to ensure that current testing methodologies used by the Department and the Services comport with best practices in the field and serve to identify to the fullest range possible those individuals who are likely to succeed in their terms of military service. […] The Secretary may utilize the services of outside, independent organizations, including federally funded research and development centers, as the Secretary determines appropriate, to access the expertise and research necessary to conduct this review NDAA FY2020 Report, p. 186

A similar bill is awaiting a floor vote in the House, which is expected to take up the measure after the July 4th recess.

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