Officials are weighing whether to change the military's aptitude test to eliminate "cultural obstacles" that may hold back candidates with Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Also under consideration are proposals to admit more holders of nontraditional secondary-school diplomas, such as general equivalency certificates, and to broaden efforts to reach out to Latinos.
With the military's post-Cold War shrinkage ending and the brisk economy soaking up other potential recruits, Pentagon officials are keenly interested in the fast-growing supply of talent offered by the Latino community. Surveys by the military show that young Latinos are more willing than young people of other major ethnic groups to pursue military careers.
Advocates of greater Latino recruitment noted that once Latinos become servicemen, they have a substantially lower dropout rate than Anglos, blacks or Asian Americans. In past wars, when test scores have counted for less and patriotic fervor has counted for more, the Latino presence has been greater: In the Vietnam War era, when Latinos represented about 5% of the population, 19% of the troops had Latino surnames, according to Pentagon officials.