Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Retired Generals & Admirals Call for Smart Investments in America's Children: If We Do Not Bring Our Young People Up to Speed and Get Them in Shape, We Will Face Serious Social and Economic Consequences-And Our Nation's Security Will Be at Risk. We Have Two Choices: We Can Lower the Standards for Military Admission, Which Would Be Unacceptable, or We Can Raise the Education and Health Standards for America's Children

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Retired Generals & Admirals Call for Smart Investments in America's Children: If We Do Not Bring Our Young People Up to Speed and Get Them in Shape, We Will Face Serious Social and Economic Consequences-And Our Nation's Security Will Be at Risk. We Have Two Choices: We Can Lower the Standards for Military Admission, Which Would Be Unacceptable, or We Can Raise the Education and Health Standards for America's Children

Article excerpt

We tend to think about our military today in terms of its fast jets, powerful ships, smart weapons and tanks. But the most powerful tool for our Armed Forces is still our people, the women and men in uniform.

Make no mistake about it: Our troops are dedicated and committed people, ready to defend our country and carry out their mission, and our military remains the strongest in the world.

But if we don't take action soon, we are going to find it harder and harder to identify and recruit the right people to do the jobs we need done.

The Department of Defense reports that 75 percent of young Americans today between the ages of 17 and 24 are unable to serve in the military because they are poorly educated, physically unfit or have a criminal record.

In 2009, a small group of retired generals and admirals, including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became very concerned about this 75 percent statistic. They began rallying fellow retired military leaders to address this threat by calling for smart investments in America's children. They understood that such investments can help ensure that our nation's youth are citizen-ready--ready to succeed academically, stay physically fit, and abide by the law. That way, they can enter the workforce with many options, including a career in the military if they choose to pursue one.

The nonprofit national security organization Mission: Readiness was officially launched in November 2009 and now has more than 325 retired generals and admirals as members across the country.

THE PROBLEM

The reality of our modern-day military is that young people today need to be able to quickly comprehend complex instructions, write clearly, master computer software, and have well-developed communication and social skills. Just as in the civilian workforce, the military increasingly needs better-educated young men and women.

This is why it is so troubling that one in four young Americans does not graduate from high school on time, and it is very difficult to join the military without a high school degree. Even among those who do graduate from high school and try to join the military, nearly one in four cannot enlist because their scores are too low on the military's exam on math, literacy and problem solving.

The U.S. Army's report Strong Students, Strong Futures, Strong Nation says, "In the coming decade, the United States will face a significant workforce shortfall and both the civilian and military sectors may not have the skilled labor required to meet the demands of a knowledge-based economy. The effect on our ability to compete globally will be devastating if we do not act immediately and forcefully to reverse the impact."

Just as the numbers of well-educated candidates for military service are declining, so too are those who qualify morally--young adults with no serious criminal history. In fact, one in 10 young adults cannot join because they have at least one prior conviction for a felony or serious misdemeanor.

Finally, the military always has been, and continues to be, a physically demanding environment. For a Soldier under fire, physical fitness can be a matter of life and death.

Over the past 15 years, the number of states with 40 percent or more of their young adults who are overweight or obese increased from one state to 40 states. Being overweight or obese is now the leading medical disqualifier for military service, with one in four young Americans too overweight to enlist.

Titanic, meet iceberg. It's time to turn this ship around.

THE SOLUTION

We need to do at least three things to correct this situation.

First, we need to improve our educational system, starting from the earliest years of children's lives.

While trends in education reform come and go, research shows that we have a solution that is consistently proven over time. …

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