Retired military leaders implore Pentagon to tackle social ills keeping 3/4 of youth from serving

Two retired U.S. military leaders have sent a letter to the Defense Department imploring officials to form a multi-service panel to identify and help combat several societal problems that are currently preventing the vast majority of American youth from serving in the armed forces.

At present, according to the letter sent to acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller from the non-partisan group Mission: Readiness, nearly three-quarters of all eligible young Americans aged 17-24 cannot meet height/weight, education, legal, and standards for acceptance into the military.

Former Air Force Gen. William M. Frazer III, the former commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, and former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. James M. Loy, noted that such a panel was recommended by the Senate Armed Forces Committee in a report accompanying the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Specifically, the Senate committee recommended that the defense secretary “collaborate with the Secretaries and Administrators of relevant Federal departments and agencies…with the purpose of taking a holistic approach to addressing issues that ultimately impact the ability of the military services to recruit new servicemembers.”

The Justice, Education, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services departments are among those identified by the armed services committee.

“As you know, 71 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are currently ineligible for military service, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a history of crime or substance abuse,” Fraser and Loy wrote.

“These factors largely fall outside of the Department of Defense’s purview, but have an immense impact on the ability of the military to recruit new service members as well as a significant monetary impact on the Department,” the letter continued.

“Without coordinated action,” the two retired flag officers noted further, “these trends pose a significant threat to the future of the all-volunteer force.”

As the unpopular Vietnam War was beginning to wind down in 1973, Congress ended the military draft and formed the all-volunteer force which, according to most experts, has largely been a success.

But in recent years as the economy improved and Congress authorized a sixth brand — the U.S. Space Force — and a larger U.S. Army, meeting recruiting goals has been difficult, at best.

“Mission: Readiness specifically urges you to immediately stand up an advisory committee on military recruitment in conjunction with” the various federal departments, the letter to Miller.

The objective, the retired officers wrote, is to “create a long-term strategy to address the biggest disqualifies for military service and ensure that more young Americans are able to join the military if that is the path they wish to take.”

They added: “We believe this is a critical step to the sustainability of the all-volunteer force and critical for our future strength and national security.”

The number of American youth unable to serve in the military for various reasons has been rising steadily for years, leading to fears that the all-volunteer force would have to be augmented at some point with draftees.

“Put another way: Over 24 million of the 34 million people of that age group cannot join the armed forces—even if they wanted to,” a Heritage Foundation report titled, “The Looming National Security Crisis: Young Americans Unable to Serve in the Military,” stated in February 2018.

“This is an alarming situation that threatens the country’s fundamental national security. If only 29 percent of the nation’s young adults are qualified to serve, and if this trend continues, it is inevitable that the U.S. military will suffer from a lack of manpower,” the report’s summary added. “A manpower shortage in the United States Armed Forces directly compromises national security.”

Jon Dougherty

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