The U.S. Army is facing one of its greatest threats since it became an all-volunteer force back in 1973. The failure of our education systems to produce well-educated, high-school graduates is threatening its ability to protect our country.
Last month, the National Commission on the Future of the Army released its long-awaited report. It assessed the Army’s readiness to meet the threats and missions of the future. The report rightly heralds the “unmatched commitment” of today’s soldiers. It also flagged the troubling lack of academic preparedness within the pool of potential recruits.
Traditionally, modernizing the force is viewed as a budgetary issue. This gap is more than dollars and cents, however. This is an educational concern.
The Commission concluded that “the All-Volunteer Force is nearing a fragile state.” It found less than half of the military age population is qualified for service, many because of an inability to pass the basic military entrance exam – the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB.
This issue has hovered below the surface over the past several years because of the ongoing troop cuts that have been spread across the Army. After all the proposed cuts are completed in 2017, the Army will have cut 21 percent of the active duty force. This has allowed the shrinking recruiting pool to be largely ignored.
But the shrinking pool can be ignored no longer. Acknowledging we face rapidly changing threats, the Commission calls for a large increase in the number of specialty positions in the Army, such as in aviation and chemical weapons. It also sounds the alarm that the Army will need a significant infusion of cyberwarfare experts.
Unfortunately, there is an even smaller pool of high school graduates that score well enough to be eligible for these much-needed specialties. According to the Education Trust, less than 45 percent of white recruits perform well enough on the ASVAB to qualify for these positions.
The numbers are even grimmer for students of color. Less than 25 percent of Hispanic and just 18 percent of African American recruits score high enough to meet the requirements.