The U.S. military has a problem. And when the military has a problem, the nation does too.
The trouble is that only a quarter of the eligible young people in the country are able to join the military. About 75 percent are unfit to serve, according to a new report titled "Ready, willing and Unable to Serve."
The report's introduction:
The Pentagon reports that 75 percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 cannot join the United States military -- 26 million young Americans. The reasons behind this are serious and, if left unaddressed, will adversely affect the future strength of our military. In the interest of national security, we must understand and deal with these problems now. We cannot rely on a continuation of what may be the worst recession since the Great Depression to ensure that America has enough qualified men and women to defend our country.
The report cites the lack of a high school diploma by a fourth of young people, the criminal records of 10 percent of the age cohort the military considers for recruitment and physical and health problems of more than a quarter in that group as the reasons limiting the pool.
The best solution, the report says, lies in early education which means solving the problem will take the long view.
A letter at the start of the report signed by the retired generals, admirals and senior enlisted officers, states:
The most proven investment for kids who need help graduating from high school starts early: high-quality early education. It also helps kids stay away from crime and succeed in life.
Our recommendation to state and federal policymakers is to ensure that America's children have access to high-quality early education. That is the best way to make certain that more young Americans will meet the tough standards of the United States military should they choose to serve. A strong commitment today to high-quality early education will keep America strong and safe tomorrow.
It makes sense that early education would help with graduation and crime rates among the target group though it's not clear it would have much of an impact on the problem of physically unfit young people.