In recent months, we've chronicled the efforts of an organization called Mission Readiness, which bills itself as "Military leaders for kids." Most of the group's members are former flag officers, who are on a crusade to improve the education, fitness and nutrition of America's youth.
From their perspective, these issues are becoming a national security problem. In its various reports, Mission Readiness has noted that more than 70% of young and women between the ages of 18-25 (the primary age group targeted for military enlistment) no longer meet basic standards for serving in the armed forces.
To be fair, we've had our differences with Mission Readiness. For example, we think the group puts too much emphasis on the problem of childhood obesity, while down-playing the impact of criminal activity, drug use and poor education as disqualifiers for military service. As we observed in a recent post, overweight recruits willing to change their diet and exercise habits can still qualify for a slot in the armed forces.
But it's military can't accept enlistees with a history of drug use, an extensive rap sheet or an education that left them unable to achieve a minimum score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. And, studies indicate that most recruits are rejected for more than one reason, so it's more than just obesity that makes many young Americans ineligible to serve. Mission Readiness would be well-served (in our opinion) by devoting more time--and attention--to the crime, drug and educational issues that hinder recruitment efforts.
Still, the retired flag officers deserve some credit for at least calling attention to the problem, and putting a local face on it. Mission Readiness has staged a number of events in state capitals and large cities, usually in conjunction with a new report on obesity, fitness or educational trends in that area.
These reports (and accompanying press coverage) are clearly aimed at shaming local officials into action. So far, these awareness events haven't had much of an impact, but they offer another reminder that these problems are not limited geographically. Consider these findings from their latest report, on the state of Pennsylvania:
A nonprofit group says that up to 90 percent of young Philadelphians are ineligible for military service because of criminal records, obesity or lack of education.
Pennsylvania-based Mission: Readiness released its report Monday. It says 1 million Pennsylvanians are ineligible for the same reasons.
The report says 145,000 Philadelphians ages 18 to 24 cannot meet the military’s medical, moral and mental standards.
Mission Readiness used the Pennsylvania event to make its usual push for more funding in Pre-K programs. Members of the group claim those programs give children a better foundation for academic and personal success. Again, those priorities may be misplaced. Why are the expectations for these programs so high, when billions of dollars invested in Head Start have been largely a failure, in terms of spurring academic success.
But the retired generals and admirals are correct in their bottom-line assessment. Tomorrow's military cannot be sustained by young people who cannot pass muster. Today, barely one in four Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 can meet entrance requirements for the armed forces. It's an absolute disgrace, and until we address problems affecting that statistic--beyond obesity, nutrition and Pre-K education--our pool of potential recruits will shrink even more.