There was an article posted to PolitiFact.com earlier this month with this headline: “Author Bing West says 75 percent of young adults in U.S. not mentally or physically fit to serve in military.”
West’s statement — he was talking on a radio station in Rhode Island at the time — got the attention of PolitiFact.com, a project of the Tampa Bay Times and its partners to help you find the truth in politics.
West, a military expert and Marine veteran, said 75 percent of the young adults in this country are not mentally or physically fit to serve. And that doesn’t bode well for a shrinking Army that may have to deploy at a moment’s notice or grow by leaps and bounds if World War III pops up.
Anyway, PolitiFact.com did its job and found West’s statement to be “true.”
Turns out, one in four young Americans lacks a high school diploma, according to a 2009 report from Mission: Readiness, a group of former military officers who advocate for better education and health for the nation’s youth.
Increasing obesity among 17 to 24 year olds was also a factor, and the report estimated that 27 percent of people that age could not meet the armed forces’ weight limits. Further, 32 percent of people in that age group had other health problems, such as asthma, learning disabilities, eyesight or other problems that would keep them out of the military.
And among high school graduates who took the military entrance exam, about 30 percent fail the math or reading portion.
Boiled down, it means the pool to select new recruits now or in the future may not be as vast as is commonly perceived.
According to the U.S. Education Department, 3.1 million American students graduated high school in the 2009-2010 school year. Even if some are out of shape or have a health issue, that seems like a lot of people who could join the Army every year.
The real challenge of solving how to rapidly grow the military will fall in the hands of Congress. Likely, lawmakers will have to consider a vote on reinstating the draft, which ended in 1973.
It won’t be popular, if it comes to that. To be honest, though, I’m not too worried about.
Americans have a knack for pulling together in times of desperate need. When Pearl Harbor and 9/11 happened, able-bodied Americans flocked to the recruiting station.
That American spirit has saved the world in the past. And, despite what the naysayers say, it could save the world again.
Even if it does take a few weeks for some of us to get in shape.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.