Project 100,000: New Standards Men and the U.S. Military in Vietnam

Kirklin Bateman

Advisor: Meredith H. Lair, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Christopher Hamner, David Armor

Research Hall, #162
June 17, 2014, 10:00 AM to 08:00 AM


This dissertation examines a Vietnam Era defense manpower program where the Department of Defense lowered the minimum score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test from 31 percent to 10 percent. Called Project 100,000 because the program allowed for 100,000 men per year to serve under the lowered standards, it lasted from October 1966 to December 1971 and resulted in approximately 346,000 men serving in all branches of the military, nearly two-thirds of them in the Army. These New Standards Men, so called since they served under “new standards,” were nearly evenly split between draftees and volunteers. The genesis for Project 100,000 occurred when the 1962 Selective Service Annual Review revealed that one-third of the young men who had reported for their induction examination and physical during that year failed to meet minimum standards—about two-thirds for low-aptitude and the rest for medical reasons. President Kennedy and later President Johnson commissioned a senior-level task force to study why this occurred and to develop national level recommendations to address the problem. The Defense Department’s contribution to these recommendations culminated in Project 100,000.

The historiography of Project 100,000 is limited. Several works claim or imply the program was the deliberate and calculated effort of the Defense Department and President Johnson’s Administration to send the most disadvantaged members of society, particularly racial minorities, to fight and die in Vietnam. A large portion of this literature vigorously argues Project 100,000 was responsible for the greater percentage of casualties among blacks in relation to the general population during the early years of the war. Nevertheless, the final accounting of Project 100,000 is a much more complex and complicated story than what numerous scholars, journalists, and other critics have offered in critiquing the program. This dissertation offers a different analysis by documenting how the Armed Forces planned for Project 100,000 and the debates that took place among the senior military leadership and the civilian policymakers in the Pentagon. It examines how the Armed Forces implemented the program to include the special training and education New Standards Men received, how these men performed during their service, and what happened to them after they left the military.

Through a detailed investigation of official correspondence from the Office of the President, Defense Department, and Military Branches, along with defense manpower studies, oral histories, and newspaper and magazine articles of the time, this study argues Project 100,000 was successful in limited ways and proved Secretary McNamara’s belief that low-aptitude men could with the proper support system meet minimum standards for success in the military. Furthermore, this study also argues Project 100,000 contributed to the end of the draft and the transition to the All-Volunteer Force. Nevertheless, the efficacy of the program is questionable given the additional cost—both actual and hidden—associated with using low-aptitude men for military service, especially during wartime. The support system of additional training and education, supervision, and other tangible and intangible measures to ensure the success of many of the New Standards Men was an additional encumbrance on an already burdened military.