The Military's Role in Rebuilding America

By Nunn, Sam | Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

The Military's Role in Rebuilding America


Nunn, Sam, Issues in Science and Technology


In the past two years, the world has witnessed unprecedented events that have altered the precepts of national security policy developed since World War II. The United States is leaving an era that required large numbers of U.S. combat forces overseas, operating in forward locations at high states of combat readiness.

At the same time, the nation is facing serious challenges at home. We are vulnerable not where the Berlin Wall once stood, but within the walls of our classrooms, our factories, and our housing projects, As the defense establishment undergoes restructuring to meet the challenges of a post-Cold-War world, there is an opportunity to match some of the freed resources with critical domestic needs.

In the past year, Congress authorized a broad spectrum of programs to facilitate defense conversion, reinvestment, and transition assistance. These programs included initiatives to encourage civil-military cooperative actions; to expand youth programs; and to assist in the transition of defense workers into other fields. Three of these initiatives are particularly relevant to the challenge of improving education and training.

For our nation to achieve strong economic growth in the coming years, we must prepare our work force to compete successfully in the global marketplace. In a recent survey, 41 percent of executives of mid-sized businesses said that they believe workforce competence has declined over the past decade. Over 30 percent said that their employees needed remedial education in basic skills. The survey said that the shortage of educated, competent workers is increasing pressure on executives to export jobs--not to cut costs but to find competent people.

In our education system, the first training ground of our work force, many weaknesses are evident. An estimated 5 million children under age 12 suffer from hunger. Many lack day-care opportunities and adequate parental attention. In a recent series of achievement tests taken by students in 13 countries, U.S. twelfth-graders came in second-to-last in mathematics and last in science. In the inner cities, fewer than half the students graduate from high school. Such educational deficiencies can choke off an individual's future professional development and diminish the nation's long-term productivity and growth.

In looking for ways to reverse this trend, many experts have identified lessons to learn from other nations. In England, every public school can direct its own budget to meet specific needs of the student body. In Germany, 70 percent of high-school students take advantage of corporate-sponsored vocational apprenticeships that are training the next generation of workers. In France, public pre-schools serve 85 percent of three-year-olds and 100 percent of five-year-olds. Well-paid teachers in Japan spend 40 percent of the school day preparing lessons and developing new teaching tools. Japanese "kyoiku mamas" (education mothers) have been enlisted in a national campaign to promote studying.

Although we should study these ideas, we might find more immediate benefit in tapping a unique American asset. Over the past 50 years, the United States has built the most advanced and expert military establishment in the world. In addition to producing sophisticated weapons and equipment, the military has developed impressive capabilities in education, training, and other skills with nonmilitary applications. The challenge is to take advantage of these assets in a manner that is at once consistent with military needs and useful to domestic efforts to address critical problems.

As the nation restructures its armed forces over the next decade, the attention of DOD civilian and military leadership must remain focused on training the armed forces for their military missions. In the course of that training, however, the military can assist in meeting domestic needs in health care, nutrition, education, and infrastructure that cannot be met by current or anticipated government and private-sector resources. …

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