Military finds 3 in 4 young adults ineligible for service

A group of former soldiers is proposing increased school funding.

As the nation honored its service members in Veterans Day celebrations, a report put out by a military readiness group last week showed nearly half a million young adults in Missouri would be unable to enlist in the military.

Mission: Readiness, a Washington-based military preparedness group, said nearly 75 percent of young adults ages 17 to 24 nationally would be ineligible for military service either because they have a criminal record, have failed to graduate high school or because they are obese.

Mission: Readiness spokesman Ted Eismeier said he wants to put programs in place to build up numbers for recruiting classes several years in the future when the U.S. might still be occupying Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Our concern is that these trends in terms of educational attainment, physical fitness and social issues will have in impact on the long-run," Eismeier said.

The report stated the situation in Missouri is better than the national average but noted 18 percent of the state's students are not graduating on time, 3 percent of its adult population is on probation or incarcerated and nearly a third of its teenagers are obese.

The bipartisan group, which is led by several retired senior military leaders, is calling for Congress to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, a provision of which would provide states with more money for early-childhood education through the Early Learning Challenge Fund.

"The armed services are meeting recruitment targets in 2009, but those of us who have served in command roles are worried about the trends we see," retired Rear Adm. James Barnett said in a statement released by the group. "Our national security in the year 2030 is absolutely dependent on what's going on in pre-kindergarten today."

The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in September and was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The report comes as recruiters across all branches of the armed forces are reporting success in meeting their targets for permanent and reserve members for the first time since the draft was discontinued and the military became an all-volunteer force in 1973.

Kent Thomas, a member of the Missouri Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission, said recruiters in the state were meeting their goals for new soldiers, even from the small pool of eligible people. He said the difficulty young people have finding jobs might be driving them toward the military. "Last year every one of the bases met its recruiting targets," Thomas said. "I think the economy's tough and people also want an opportunity to serve."

Missouri National Guard spokeswoman Capt. Tammy Spicer said the small number eligible young adults is not unusual.

"It's definitely one of the things our Missouri National Guard recruiters deal with on a daily basis, finding the small percentage who are eligible to serve, and then within that, the small percentage of people who want to serve," she said.

She said some recruits were motivated by intangible benefits and others by the incentives already offered by the National Guard.

"The Missouri National Guard has met its recruiting goals for several years, so I would not attribute its success directly to the national economy," Spicer said. "People join on an individual basis and it is usually done out of a sense of patriotism and giving back, or for some of the great benefits of membership."

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