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On 11 April, Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad published an article on a new plan to decrease the drop-out rate for Belgian military recruits. The Belgian Ministry of Defence is considering to drop the obligation to stay at barracks during military training. It calls it a “meeting the needs of the modern soldier halfway“, because one in six recruits doesn’t finish training. Allegedly because they miss the free life, family and friends too much. Which leads professor and defence specialist Luc de Vos to ask:

What if those soldiers have to go to a war zone for four months?

In the past ten years, 3.877 recruits dropped out of basic training, with 16.2% indicating that they missed civilian life, meaning family, friends, sweethearts and hobbies, too much to continue. That’s the reason the Belgian Army, plagued by lack of personnel, wants to meet some modern needs. Even at the costs of some ‘sacred cows’, like obligatory staying in barracks during training. Alex Claesen, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, explains:

“The Army wants to allow more free nights, on which the recruit can leave the barracks. The youths are now expected at the gate on Sunday night, or Monday morning at the latest and not allowed to leave before Friday. We are now investigating the possibility to lengthen the free weekend, by concentrating the hours we teach. The Army is even studying if the boarding school system can be relaxed or even dropped altogether. Which would mean recruits living close to the military school or the barracks can go home at night.”

De Vos realises that the solutions researched by the Army may seem anachronistic, but, as he says “if the choice is between too few recruits, or finding enough people with a few small adjustments, the choice is simple.” But the Army will not be making the decision lightly:

“The obligatory stay in barracks is the primordial image of entering service. It promotes a group atmosphere. But the Army is adapting to modern society. And that society is less harsh than when I was stationed in Germany and could only go home four times a year.”

Nevertheless, De Vos wonders if the Army is not pushing the problem ahead. “What if those boys and girls, who want to go home during the week, need to go abroad for four months?” Former para-commando Danny Lams is less nuanced in his opinions. The chairman of a society of veterans thinks it would be a very stupid decision:

“This is how you get a worthless defence, an army you can’t rely on. Wimps, instead of the soldiers you need to prepare for war. You don’t go to war zones with men that miss their mama. We used to sleep on the cold ground in a leaky tent. We wanted to serve our country. We didn’t complain about going home. If you allow recruits to go home during the week, the soldiers will ask for mobile homes if they’re sent to the front.”

This year, the Ministry of Defence wants to recruit 160 officers, 611 non-commissioned officers and 810 volunteers and sailors. The number of positions offered will rise in the coming years.