The conservative Heritage Foundation believes Defense Department statistics that show as many as 71 percent of all U.S. citizens between ages 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the military — a statistic that poses a significant threat to 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 Washington, D.C.-based think tank stated in a Feb. 13 white paper.

Its authors, Thomas Spoehr and Bridget Handy, noted that the armed forces already are beset with problems attracting sufficient manpower.
Spoehr and Handy cite the Army as having the most critical need. Even with offers of increased bonuses and incentives, the service expects to have trouble meeting its goal of enlisting 80,000 new soldiers this year.

The authors also recognize that simple solutions are elusive. Lowering entry standards, for instance, would have an adverse effect on the quality of the total force.
They quote several flag-rank officers who echo their concerns.

“I don’t think the American public would like us to lower the quality of those joining the Army if they knew it’s going to impact our ability to perform the very functions our nation expects us to do,”Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, commander of Army Recruiting Command, said.

Health problems are responsible for 32 percent of those who are ineligible, according to statistics cited by Heritage. Physical fitness issues account for another 27 percent; education, 25 percent; and criminality, 10 percent.

The authors recommend:
* Initiation of a thorough public awareness and advocacy program, to make the American public more aware of the issue.
* Appointment of role models to leadership positions in the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
* Establishment by Congress of more “common sense”school-choice options.
* Support programs such as Junior ROTC, Scouting, Big Brother and Big Sister, and youth sports.
* Support legislation that would promote the presence of military personnel in activities that take place in elementary, middle and high schools.