Well, here’s a thought for all of us to contemplate.
According the the web site, “Axios,” close to 75 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible for military service because of health issues or criminal backgrounds.
This kind of information should be cause for some serious concern. The new military budget recently passed by Congress is calling for an additional 25,900 people by October of 2019 and up to 56,600 by 2023. The ability to recruit these new troops is being hampered by the realities of our current society in profound ways.
Retired Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, co-author of a paper on the recruiting crisis that is before us said recently, “We all have this image in our mind of this hearty American citizen, scrappy, that can do anything…That image we keep in our heads is no longer accurate.”
Why? Well, here are some of the statistics that we are up against at this time. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) obesity rates are at an all-time high at 32 percent of the 17-24 age group. Asthma rates are up as well. But there is another thing that is happening now that was not covered in the Axios article. That is, the almost exponential rise in drug deaths among our youth in the current opioid crisis.
As a nation, we need to be asking hard questions. What about our current culture is giving rise to all of these issues at this time? And, what ought we be doing differently to address these very important and difficult problems, not just for the military, but for the society in general?
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These questions are worthy of a healthy debate at the local and the national levels, a debate that needs to transcend our current political divides. These are not right or left political problems, rather, they are problems much more related to our current national character.
Another problem is the falling high school graduation rates. While nationally the high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 84.1 percent in 2017, in certain cities around the country they are falling. For example, Montgomery, Alabama’s graduation rate in 2017 was 70.7 percent and Albany, Oregon’s rate fell to a staggering 51.3 percent. A high school diploma, or a GED is necessary for anyone who wants to serve in the military.
Meanwhile, the economy is doing well. The unemployment rate is at 4 percent nationally, adding another dimension to the difficulties recruiters face.
The military, like all sections of society, is growing more and more technologically advanced and needs young men and women who are prepared to handle the complexities of modern military warfare. But we still need physically fit, well-conditioned men and women who can meet the physical and emotional demands of the battlefield too.
With our present all-volunteer military, the reality is that already less than 1 percent of the total population currently serves in our military branches. Only 1 percent of our population, including the families of those who are serving, is taking on the duties and the sacrifices necessary to defend the nation. And though there may be many who wish to serve, too many of them are currently ineligible because of their current physical status, or because they have criminal backgrounds.
Though we may wish it were not so, current geopolitical realities make a well trained and equipped military force necessary, especially for a nation as important on the world stage as ours. Though we may be graduating 84.1 percent of our high school students, and though the emphasis has been clearly placed on STEM classes, as a retired university teacher I can tell you that today’s high school graduates are graduating with less knowledge of American history, of our common civic duties, and have diminished higher level communication skills, that is writing, speaking and rhetorical skills, and have had little, if any, training in general ethics.
Schools are bending to the politically expedient fashions of the day at the expense of more formal, even classical learning. All of these things together may be contributing to our growing difficulties in finding sufficient numbers of qualified men and women to meet our current and future military and civilian needs.
We should all be concerned.
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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.