I wonder if the Roman Empire had similar problems before it collapsed. --PG

*Girding for an uphill battle for recruits*

Obesity, poor education make many younger people unfit for military

 By Christian Davenport and Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2009

 It's tough enough selling military service to teenagers who might not be so
keen on getting their heads shaved or buy the whole "we do more by 9 a.m."
line. And the fact that enlisting today could very well mean a visit to the
front lines doesn't help, either.

But according to a new report, there are other factors that make recruiters'
jobs even more difficult: the country's poor education system and the
worsening obesity crisis.

About 75 percent of the country's 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for
military service, largely because they are poorly educated, overweight and
have physical ailments that make them unfit for the armed forces, according
to a report to be issued Thursday.

Other factors, such as drug use, criminal records and mental problems,
contribute to what military leaders say is a major problem that threatens
the country's ability to defend itself at a time when the all-volunteer
force is already strained fighting two wars.

To combat the problem, a group of retired military leaders has joined
Education Secretary Arne Duncan to call for greater investment in early
education, which advocates say helps boost academic achievement and social

"We are very concerned," said retired Army Maj. Gen. James A. Kelley, a
member of Mission: Readiness, the Washington-based nonprofit organization
that issued the report. "We do have the greatest military in the world -- we
have the greatest planes, the greatest tanks, the greatest ships -- but the
key goal is having great people. Right now, we're attracting very highly
qualified folks but that could change over time."

The report, "Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve," comes after the military
had one of its best recruiting years since the draft ended in 1973. During
the budget year that ended Sept. 30, the military met all of its recruiting
goals and had a higher quality of recruit than in years past. About 95
percent of all Army recruits had a high school diploma, up from 83 percent
the year before.

Military officials say their recent success is due to increased spending on
recruiting and bonuses, which in the Army went from an average of less than
$8,000 in 2000 to more than $18,000 in 2008. A dismal economy, which drove
up civilian unemployment, helped fill the ranks as well. But in its report,
the group warns that "a weak economy is no formula for a strong military.
Once the economy begins to grow again, the challenge of finding enough
high-quality recruits will return."

One of the main reason recruits don't qualify for the service is inadequate
education. One in four between the ages of 17 and 24 does not have a high
school diploma, according to the report. And many who do still fail the
military's version of the SAT, known as the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Asthma, eyesight and hearing problems are also factors. But about a third of
all potential recruits can't join is because they're too fat and out of

"When you get kids who can't do push-ups, pull-ups or run, this is a
fundamental problem not just for the military but for the country," said
Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's director of accessions policy. Many kids are
not "taking physical education in school; they're more interested in
sedentary activities such as the computer or television. And we have a
fast-food mentality in this country."

Recruiters, then, become part-time tutors and coaches, helping with homework
and whipping kids into shape. Some even hold after-school workouts, where
teenagers prepare for basic training. To pass an Army physical fitness test,
an 18-year-old male must be able to do 42 push-ups in two minutes, 53
sit-ups in two minutes and run two miles in 15 minutes and 54 seconds.

Earlier this year, the National Guard opened a "Patriot Academy" in Indiana,
which helps high school dropouts earn a high school diploma after graduating
from basic training. In Maryland, the majority of Guard recruiters are also
certified substitute teachers, helping recruits with their homework, said
Sgt. Maj. Anthony Weeks.

"We'll go work out at the gym with them to get them in shape," Weeks said.

But that's become increasingly challenging. Nationwide, more than one in
four adults is classified as obese by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Locally, 22 percent of adults in the District are obese; 26
percent in Virginia; and 27 percent in Maryland.

Mission: Readiness, which comprises 89 retired military leaders including
two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is holding a news
conference Thursday to bring attention to the issue. And the group is
pushing Congress to pass the Obama administration's Early Learning Challenge
Fund, a program that would grant states $1 billion annually for 10 years for
early childhood development programs.

Educators say preschool programs are one of the best ways to ensure academic
success later in life. Military officials think they're one of the best ways
to ensure the country has a large pool of people who will be savvy enough to
fly helicopters, drive tanks and gather intelligence.

"You can't wait until high school in order to change a young person," said
Kelly, the retired major general. "It has to be done at a very early age,
and that's why the need for high quality early learning is so vital."