A different call to arms

Retired Major General Thomas Cutler, former commander of the Michigan National Guard

Most Michigan youth unqualified for military service

Current and former military officers say that a large proportion of Michigan young people are not qualified for military service, and they are calling for increased investment in early childhood education programs to improve outcomes for Michigan youth.

“It’s true that only about one in four young people are eligible to serve in the military,” said retired Major General Thomas Cutler, former commander of the Michigan National Guard. “They’re ineligible because they don’t meet height and weight requirements or they don’t have the educational background or they’ve been involved with the law.”

“We talk to a lot of people who are interested in the military, but we have to go through a lot of people who don’t qualify,” said Sgt. First Class Shawn Fries, team leader for the Army National Guard recruiters in northern Michigan.

Cutler called for investment in early childhood education. “Any number of studies show that young people who go to preschool are more likely to graduate from high school,” said Cutler. “Preschool has even been shown to prevent crime.”

Fries estimates that he talks to nearly 100 people interested in the military for every one person who successfully qualifies. Fries says that approximately 50 percent of those people fail to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), the armed services qualifying exam, which covers core subjects like math, reading and writing.

An additional 30 percent, according to Fries’ calculation, fail to qualify because they don’t meet height and weight requirements.

“The problem nowadays is laziness. Kids today eat too much fast food, play too much Play Station, and don’t get enough physical activity,” he said.

Mission Readiness, a national security organization based in Washington, D.C., recently released a report that showed that three out of four young people in Michigan are not qualified to serve in the military. The report cited minimum standards for physical fitness, education and lack of criminal record.

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.

Fries pointed to the way math is currently taught in high school, with what he described as a heavy reliance on calculators. The ASVAB exam doesn’t allow test-takers to use calculators.

“Most of them just know how to punch in numbers on a calculator,” said Fries of graduating students. He says he sees young people with strong high school grade point averages who fail the ASVAB.

Cutler said that if that the pool of young people who qualify for military service isn’t expanded, the United States could suffer militarily. “It could turn into a national security crisis,” he said. He said that Michigan State Senator Roger Kahn’s efforts to increase early childhood education funding in the state by $140 million “would go a long way toward decreasing the gap in access and quality.”

Fries said that of the young people he talks to who are interested in military service, approximately 20 percent fail to qualify because of a past criminal record. “But if a 16, 17, 18-year-old has a lot of run-ins with the law, we don’t want them,” said Fries.

The Mission Readiness report cites statistics showing that one in every 27 adults in Michigan was in jail, in prison, on probation or on parole in 2007. Even more have a criminal record that would keep them from serving.

Cutler said that “government-funded preschool programs have the potential to reach young people in every sector of our society.”

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