While the military continues its push for diversity, it isn't getting much help from some key members of Congress, who represent heavily minority districts across the country.
An Associated Press review of service academy appointments over the past five years reveals that lawmakers from the nation's major urban areas--New York, Chicago and Los Angeles--rank at or near the bottom in the number of students they've nominated to the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
As the wire service discovered:
Academy records obtained by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act show that lawmakers in roughly half of the 435 House districts nominated more than 100 students each during the five-year period.
But Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York City, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, nominated only four students, the lowest among House members who served the entire five-year period. Rep. Charles Rangel, whose New York City district includes Harlem, was second-lowest, with eight nominations. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose San Francisco district is 29 percent Asian, was also near the bottom, with 19.
In fact, the bottom 20 House members were all from districts where whites make up less than a majority.
"It's beyond my imagination how someone that has the ability to nominate doesn't do it," Craig Duchossois said last December at his final meeting as chairman of the Naval Academy's Board of Visitors.
He noted what an academy appointment means: a free four-year education and a guaranteed job as an officer for at least five years after graduation.
Velazquez, Rangel and Pelosi would not comment or did not return calls.
Trying to explain this trend, the AP attempts to provide a little cover for Pelosi (and other representatives with few nominations), quoting anonymous sources that claim many inner-city students can't meet the service academies' stringent admissions requirements--or they're simply unaware of the opportunities offered.
Of course, there is an element of truth in that. As we've noted in previous posts, the number of American youth who qualify for military service has declined dramatically in recent years. According to one recent estimate, only 28% of the nation's young men and women meet the standards for enlistment; the rest are rejected for reasons ranging from obesity and other medical conditions, to drug usage and criminal activity, and even the long-term use medications for attention deficit disorder.
So, if the pool of potential enlistees is shrinking, it stands to reason that fewer young people would meet admission standards for West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy. Then, there's the matter of politics; many of the representatives with few appointments were vocal critics of the war in Iraq. The AP tries to suggest those members of Congress were holding true to their principles, refusing to train young Americans to fight in a conflict they oppose.
But those arguments only go so far; as the AP discovered, some minority members of Congress (or those serving urban areas) make more of an effort to appoint deserving constituents to the academies. Congressman Elijah Cummings, who represents portions of Baltimore--and has steadfastly opposed the Iraq War--has (nonetheless) nominated 128 students from his district over the past five years. To his credit, Mr. Cummings and his staff try to make young people aware of the opportunities available at the service academies--an effort neglected by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Charley Rangel.
This isn't the first time that Mr. Rangel's constituents have been noticeably absent in the military's ranks. Back in 2005, the Harlem representative claimed that minorities were disproportionately represented in the the armed services--and by extension, suffering more than their share of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Tim Kane of the Heritage Foundation obliterated those claims with a detailed study, released shortly after Mr. Rangel 's widely-publicized call for reinstating the draft. Analyzing reams of demographic and geographic data, Dr. Kane found that African-Americans constitute 14% of the nation's military, about the same level of representation (13%) in the general population. So much for that "unfair burden" theory. Moreover, the Heritage analysis found that the fastest-growing segment of military recruits came from areas with the highest income levels.
Kane also made the remarkable discovery that not a single young person from Rangel's district joined the armed forces in the year covered by his survey and data analysis (emphasis ours). To our knowledge, Congressman Rangel never replied to the Heritage study and its rather inconvenient truths.
To be sure, it's sometimes difficult to find academy candidates in neighborhoods with poor schools, rampant crime and families that are often splintered. Still, it's worth the search. At one Baltimore high school, the AP interviewed an 18-year-old Filipino immigrant, who's been working towards an Annapolis appointment for the past for years. We certainly hope she makes it. And, it would be even better if some of our elected representatives made more of an effort to send qualified young men and women to the service academies.
The key word, of course, is qualified. Seats at West Point, Annapolis and The Springs should be reserved for young people with the necessary traits to become future military leaders. But those qualities are not exclusive to white, suburban kids. If the numbers from Baltimore are any indication, there are future generals and admirals in the inner city, waiting to be discovered and encouraged.