Report Says 75 Percent of U.S. Youth Unfit for Military Service

Written by Warren Mass on November 06 2009.

An AP report carried by Fox News on November 5 quoted retired Army Maj. Gen. James Kelley, a member of the non-profit group,  who stated:

"We are very concerned. We do have the greatest military in the world [—] we have the greatest planes, the greatest tanks, the greatest ships [—] but the key goal is having great people. Right now, we're attracting very highly qualified folks but that could change over time."

The AP report noted that Mission: Readiness “is pushing Congress to pass the Obama administration's Early Learning Challenge Fund, a program that would grant states $1 billion annually for 10 years for early childhood development programs.”

While the attention-grabbing headlines certainly elicit concern among all Americans concerned about our national security — particularly in these troubled times — a quick study of the solutions proposed by Mission: Readiness raises even more concerns. While a strong-and-ready military is essential for our federal government to fulfill its constitutional mandate to protect the states against invasion, that function has traditionally been met without excessive federal involvement in areas best left to the states and private enterprise. However, the solutions proposed in “Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve:” go far beyond the proper federal function of building an effective military and favor a heavy intrusion into an area where the Constitution grants no power to the federal government — education.

There are several leading indicators of this misguided direction: First, Mission: Readiness was joined in releasing “Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve:” not by the Secretary of Defense, as one might expect, but by the Secretary of Education.

Second, although the group lists more than 80 retired military leaders — including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretaries of the Army and Navy — on its Executive Advisory Council, the groups national director, Amy Taggart, has quite a different background. A Political Science major, Taggart’s experience before launching Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids began with working for a tutoring and mentoring program for low-income, Spanish-speaking youth in East Palo Alto, California. Taggart then helped found what is described in her biography as “the anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.” That group’s first chairman of the board was former Attorney General (again not Secretary of Defense) Elliott Richardson. It now represents “over 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and victims of violence advocating for the programs proven to get kids the right start so they never turn to a life of crime.”

A third indicator that Mission: Readiness is advocating government involvement in something beyond a purely military function is the complete title of the report: “Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve: 75 Percent of Young Adults Cannot Join the Military; Early Ed in Pennsylvania is Needed to Ensure National Security”

“Early ed,” of course, refers to early education, usually of the government-paid-for-and-controlled variety.

This is not to say that many of the problems addressed in this report (and other similar reports) are not legitimate, or that early education programs chosen by parents for their children are not beneficial. However, it is as important to make the distinction between private and government involvement in education as it is to make the distinction between federal responsibility for our national defense and federal responsibility for our educational needs. Consider this quote from General Henry “Hugh” Shelton, Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, featured in the report:

Our men and women in uniform are the best in the world. But the sophistication of our military is increasing every year so we will soon need even better-qualified recruits. Unfortunately, the number of young Americans who have high-school degrees, are in good physical shape, and are without criminal records is declining. To keep our country strong and safe, we need to ensure all young Americans get the right start in life – we need more investments in high-quality early education.

Again, the general presents a legitimate challenge, but advocates a false solution. Certainly, all Americans want to see our young people graduate from school with a good education, with good physical fitness, and without a criminal record.  But those goals have historically been best achieved by direct parental involvement, with help from privately (or at least locally) funded educators.

Lest there be any mistake about who the “we” are whom the general believes must make an investment in high-quality early education, we read in the report:

Until 2004, Pennsylvania was one of only nine states with essentially no state-funded early education program. By 2008 it had state-funded programs serving 11 percent of four-year olds, and just over five percent of three-year-olds in the state.  However, Pennsylvania serves a far lower percentage of its four-year-olds than its next-door neighbors New York and West Virginia: New York serves 39 percent of its four-year-olds and West Virginia serves 43 percent.

If those served by Head Start, the federally-funded pre-kindergarten program, are also counted, more than 60,000 at-risk Pennsylvania children from low-income families are being served. That still leaves 65 percent of at-risk three- and four-year-olds who are not served according to figures from the Pennsylvania Partnership for Children. The United States Congress and the Pennsylvania Legislature should be moving as quickly as possible to ensure that all at-risk kids have access to these programs to ensure our national security. (Emphasis added.)

Let us distill that statement down even further.

The report advocates the The United States Congress and the Pennsylvania Legislature (not parents, or private schools, or church-affiliated schools, or even the local community) should fund programs to educate children as young as three years old, “to ensure our national security.”

The idea of three-year-olds being enrolled in federally funded early education programs does seem at all compatible with this writer’s memories of a carefree childhood, playing in the park with other three- and four-year olds. Rather than being valued for our potential future service to our “national security,” we were valued as children, our most important cares in the world revolving around matters no more serious than blowing the white seed tufts off dandelions!

Should our children be better educated, encouraged to become physically fit through proper diet and lots of exercise, and taught the basic moral values that will enable them to avoid trouble with the law?

Of course.

But that is the job of parents — not our federal and state governments.


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