Retired Military Leaders Emphasize Early Education


By Debbie Gregory.

Weekly, applicants are walking into a requiting center in Brooklyn wanting to enlist in the United States Army. Sergeant First Class Israel Herrera doesn’t like to turn them away, but he finds, more often than not,  six out of 10 don’t meet military standards.

Today, the military is seeking a higher skilled recruit. In addition to being a high school graduate who is patriotic and able bodied, recruits must also have above average scores on the military entrance exams and be free from prior drug use or criminal conduct. Drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with high unemployment, have enabled the U.S. military to become choosier. Joining the Army provides employment and stability, and that makes it an attractive choice for young people.

There are several reasons why today’s youth do not qualify for military service. 20% of high school students fail to graduate. Obesity and other medical conditions disqualify about 35% of candidates. Prior drug and alcohol involvement disqualify another 19%, and criminal records disqualify 5%.

Thee qualification requirements were much more lenient during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

But more recently, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have been looking to enlist the highest quality recruits. High school diplomas are required, and candidates with GEDs are often turned away and encouraged to acquire some college credits before re-applying.

Studies of preschool programs have shown higher rates of high school completion and lower rates of criminal activity, among other positive outcomes in program graduates through age 20. Retired military admirals and generals are supporting Obama’s proposal to invest more public money in preschool access for 4-year olds in order to improve the nation’s national security. They believe that the best long-term solution to improve recruiting qualifications is to expand the access to and quality of early education. Research has shown that students who start school earlier do better academically and live healthier lives.

Strategically, it is imperative that the United States have a military comprised of highly qualified individuals, capable of using high-tech weapons systems, interacting with people from different cultures, and making high-stakes decision.