Recruitment and Conscription
Enrollment is voluntary, although nominally a draft system exists whereby a proportion of young men on their 18th birthday are selected by lottery. Those so selected attend weekend training that emphasizes education, history, physical fitness, and discipline. These recruits also act as a labor pool for a variety of public works social programs, such as tree trimming, clean-up of urban areas, painting schools, etc.
Only volunteers serve in active units of the Mexican armed forces. Most recruits are of a poor or indigent background; for them, induction into the military is often seen as a source of employment and as a means of upward social mobility. Soldiers' pay is slightly higher than established minimum wages, and recruits can hold second jobs. Vocational and literacy training for armed forces personnel improves their chances of employment when their term of enlistment is completed.
The basic requisites for induction into the armed forces are Mexican citizenship by birth, completion of primary schooling, and absence of a criminal record. Initial recruits are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. Enlistment is conducted at military zone headquarters and other military installations. Accordingly, most of the recruits tend to originate in the Federal District and central states, where bases are clustered. Vacancies in local units are often filled by youths completing their national military service.
Recruits enlisting for their first three-year term of service receive basic training at the local unit to which they are assigned, which usually is not far from the individual's home. During the first term of enlistment, the emphasis is on developing basic military skills using an on-the-job training approach. There is a high retention rate for first-term recruits, who often elect to enlist for another three years. Recruits usually complete subsequent terms of service away from their districts. Persons completing this second term of service can hope to attain the rank of sergeant. An increasing number of enlisted personnel serve until they are eligible for retirement, which comes after twenty years. The small noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps is concerned primarily with indoctrinating and molding new recruits and serving in specialist functions. With a high ratio of commissioned officers to NCOs, commissioned officers tend to exercise most leadership responsibilities in troop units.
Applicants aspiring to become commissioned officers apply for admission to one of the three service academies. The oldest and most prestigious is the army's Heroic Military College. To be eligible for entrance, an applicant must be a male Mexican citizen by birth, unmarried, and between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. Most candidates are sixteen to eighteen years of age. Besides paying a processing fee, candidates are required to pass a series of aptitude, psychological, and physical examinations. Screening is rigorous; only top performers are accepted, although those not selected are permitted to retake the examinations the following year. Each year a few senior NCOs who have shown leadership qualities are selected to attend a special one-year course at the Heroic Military College preparatory to commissioning.
The need to travel to Mexico City for the examinations and the required processing fee discourage many potential candidates from applying for admission. Applicants from distant areas must meet their own travel and lodging costs. Along with the fact that the standards of education are relatively higher in the Federal District, these factors tend to ensure that a high percentage of academy entrants are residents of the capital area.
Most officers are drawn from lower-middle-class and middle-class families. Fewer than 5 percent are believed to be from the upper class. Approximately 20 percent of cadets come from military families, and many others have some military affiliation through relatives. Young officers also tend to marry women from military families. In view of the importance of personal relationships within the military, such ties often are relevant factors in the advancement of an officer's career. Because they often come from a lower social stratum than civilians holding positions of comparable importance, military professionals do not have the same prestige as the officer class in some other Latin American countries.
The practice of women following soldiers on campaigns and sometimes fighting in battles is well established in Mexican history and legend. Until the 1920s, Mexican armies did not provide regular commissary services, and soldiers in effect employed women, known as soldaderas , to buy or forage for food and other supplies and to cook their meals. During the Revolution, women sometimes were directly involved in the fighting. By the 1930s, however, the soldadera system had been banished from the military as a source of immorality and vice.
Women are permitted to enlist in the modern Mexican military and can enjoy careers in the armed forces, although they are subject to numerous restrictions. The Organic Law states that women have the same rights and duties as men in the armed forces, but in practice women are not permitted to fill combat positions, nor are they eligible for admission to the service academies. Women who enlist receive the same basic training as men, including courses on the handling and knowledge of weapons, followed by training in their assigned specialties. Women serve almost exclusively in the areas of administration, medical care, communications, and physical education. The highest rank a woman has achieved is that of major general, by a senior military surgeon.
Obligatory military service for males was introduced in 1941 in response to Mexico's possible entry into World War II. During January in the year of their eighteenth birthday, all Mexican men are required to register with the local municipal government for military service. Out of approximately 1.1 million who register each year, some 320,000 are selected by lottery to begin training during January of the following year. The military obligation is for twelve months, which in practice means no more than one morning a week of calisthenics and drilling (although some draftees are now required to fulfill a three-month period of full-time training).
On completing military service, conscripts remain in reserve status until the age of forty. Completion of the service requirement is noted on a Military Identity Card that bears the individual's photograph and must be revalidated every two years. The identity card is required when applying for a passport, driver's license, or employment. This requirement provides the Mexican government with a useful means of keeping track of its adult male population.
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