By CELESTE BOTT
Capital News Service
LANSING – An estimated three out of four young adults in Michigan are not qualified to serve in the military, according to a new report.
Mission Readiness, a national security organization based in New York, cited minimum standards for education, physical fitness and lack of a criminal record.
The group of retired military leaders advocates for investments in education. The goal is to help young Americans succeed in school, in hopes that more will grow up prepared for military service, should they choose to enlist.
The report, “Michigan Youth: Ready, Willing but Unable to Serve,” presents statistics that showed a quarter of young people in the state don’t graduate from high school on time. Of those who do, one in five cannot pass the academic exams required to enter the military.
Retired Maj. Gen. William Henderson, former commander of the Michigan Air National Guard, said that based on estimates from the Department of Defense, 75 percent of young Americans can’t serve for three primary reasons: they have not graduated from high school, they are physically unfit or they have a criminal record.
“Because Michigan’s problems with weight are similar to the national average and the state’s problems with education are far worse than the national average, it is likely that three out of four young adults in Michigan can’t join the military,” he said.
Henderson and Retired Maj. Gen. Thomas Cutler, former state adjutant general of Michigan, said that improving early education programs is key.
They are working with Mission Readiness to make sure that happens.
According to the organization’s communication officer, David Carrier, high-quality early education programs have already proven effective.
“Michigan launched its preschool program, Great Start Readiness, in 1985 and it has been operating long enough to see long-term strong results,” he said.
According to Carrier, statistics show that children who attended the program were 25 percent more likely to graduate from high school on time.
Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, has proposed a $140 million expansion to the 2013 state budget, primarily to fund such early education programs. Cutler and Henderson used their visit to Saginaw to show support for his initiative.
Kahn cited additional statistics that he said are of great concern.
“The issue we’re running into right now is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 percent of kids who leave high school are not eligible to enter the service because they have criminality, they are physically unfit or their education is inadequate,” Kahn said.
Kahn said the situation isn’t a problem only for the armed forces, but for anyone looking for a job in today’s tough economic climate.
“What’s required to have a job in the military and in the civilian workforce are not that different,” he said. “So the fact that so few young people are prepared physically, intellectually or emotionally is a disaster.
“If this trend continues, we won’t have a nation because we won’t be able defend it or maintain it,” he said.
Kahn said that he hopes that the additional $140 million will help reverse the current trend and change the way young people are educated at the earliest stages of development.
“Right now we’re trying to fix things that were broken much earlier,” he said. “It’s doing damage control later on, but not fixing the problem at the early stages. An infant or a child doesn’t have a lobbyist. We can stand up for them now, and prevent these kinds of problems in the future.”
As state adjutant general, Cutler experienced firsthand the difficulty of finding young adults fit for service.
“My job was to recruit and I had a large recruiting force working for me,” Cutler said. “Very few people are qualified, and those who qualify are not always inclined. It really becomes a challenge to find enough capable young people to volunteer.”
Cutler said that improving early education is one of the best options to solve the problem.
“I’m absolutely convinced – and studies validate the fact – that high-quality early childhood education increases the probability that young people will graduate high school,” he said. “And they have a better chance to grow up physically and emotionally healthy as well.”
Cutler said that Kahn’s proposal will save money in the long run.
“This is a problem that’s been brewing over the years,” Cutler said. “Currently the main way the military attracts young people is by creating incentives. We offer educational opportunities and enlistment bonuses.
“In the long term, we won’t always be able to afford that. It would be cheaper to invest in early childhood education and raise young people to be the best they can be from the start.”
According to Kahn, he has support from policymakers, media outlets and business leaders throughout the state, and that backing by groups like Mission Readiness or military leaders is a great start.
“The military has recognized the problem,” said Kahn. “But it transcends the military.”
By CELESTE BOTT