RALEIGH -- The biggest long-term threat to U.S. national security might not be terrorists or weapons of mass destruction. According to a group of military leaders, it's homegrown obesity, ignorance and criminality, which together make seven of 10 target-age recruits ineligible to serve in the American armed forces.
"It's not just disturbing. It's a call to action," James A. Kelly, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said Thursday during a telephone news conference from Washington.
Kelly is one of nearly 100 former and current military leaders who came together last year to form an organization called Mission: Readiness to draw attention to the status of potential recruits. In a study it calls "Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve," the group says Pentagon analysts have concluded that 75 percent of people ages 17 to 24 could not qualify for military service because they are obese or have some other health problem, lack a high school diploma or have a serious criminal history.
In a year when a down economy has helped the all-volunteer military meet all its recruiting and retention goals, it may seem odd to focus on who can't get in.
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But Mission: Readiness worries about the future and says this is the time to invest in programs to help improve young people's chances at success in life, including a career in the military. At its news conference, speakers urged the U.S. House to pass an education bill that would include $8 billion for the Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would give states money to support preschool education programs. The bill has been approved by the Senate.
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