Ken Plum: Unable to serve
Column by Ken Plum
An estimated 672,000 Virginians aged 17 to 24 could not join the military if they walked into a recruiter’s office today, according to Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids.
Nearly 30 percent of young people in Virginia fail to graduate high school on time or drop out entirely. At least 31 percent are overweight or obese. Mission: Readiness is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of senior retired military leaders who seek to ensure “continued American security and prosperity into the 21st century by calling for smart investments in the next generation of American children.” (www.MissionReadiness.org)
More than two dozen retired generals and admirals who are members of the organization signed a joint letter to members of the General Assembly earlier this month asking that legislators “heed our simple message: to ensure that the military has competent men and women ready to serve our country, it is imperative that we invest in early childhood education, especially for at-risk, disadvantaged children who otherwise might not develop to their full potential.” Unfortunately, the approved budget did include cuts to these programs but not as draconian as originally proposed in the House of Delegates.
The report, “Young Virginians: Ready, Willing, and Unable to Serve” prepared by Mission: Readiness contains some sobering facts as to why 75 percent of young adults cannot join the military. Inadequate education tops the list. The Report calls Virginia’s dropout rate “alarming.” In the City of Norfolk only 38 percent of ninth graders graduate on time. Even with a high school diploma about 30 percent of recruits fail the Armed Forces Qualification Test. One in 10 young adults cannot join the military because they have at least one prior conviction for a felony or serious misdemeanor. In Virginia there are more than 40,000 juvenile arrests in a year. Virginia’s weight problem is slightly worse than the nationwide average with 31 percent of children ages 10-17 either overweight or obese.
Mission: Readiness’s recommendation to overcoming these challenges among our young people is to invest in early childhood education. The Report states that over 40 years of research on early childhood programs has found that they address the problem of increasing graduation rates and cutting crime. Currently Virginia serves only about 20 percent of its 4-year-olds with Head Start or state-funded early education programs.
The retired military leaders conclude their report: “We fully understand what is at stake. Virginia can, and must, do a better job of preparing our children for a successful life with many options in adulthood, including a career in the military if they choose to serve. Increased investments in high-quality early education are essential for our national security.” And for our quality of life.