More than 670,000 young Virginians could not join today's military because of educational, legal or physical problems, including the need to lose weight.
And that's the good news.
The nation as a whole is doing worse.That's according to a report released Thursday that says the difficulty of finding quality recruits could eventually pose a threat to national security.
The group, called Mission: Readiness, called on Congress to invest more in early learning programs to steer kids on the right track. It released its findings at a press conference in Washington.
"Our national security in the year 2030 is absolutely dependent on what's going on in prekindergarten today," said retired Rear Adm. James Barnett.
Across the country, 75 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 are unable to enlist because they failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record or are physically unfit, according to the report.
In Virginia, about 24 percent of students do not graduate on time. Another 31 percent of people ages 10-17 are classified as overweight or obese, which contributes to problems once they become older. Physical problems also include conditions like asthma or eyesight problems.
The study says about one in 46 Virginians is on probation, parole or behind bars. That's about 2 percent.
The group's members include a number of high-profile military brass such as retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, and retired Air Force Gen. Richard E. Hawley, former commander of Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.
Clark called the 75 percent figure "kind of stunning."
He said the military is meeting its recruiting goals for now, but the poor economy is helping by not creating many private-sector jobs.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the Obama administration has proposed investing in the Early Learning Challenge Fund, designed to help states provide early learning help for at-risk children.
The House passed a bill in September that includes support for the fund. The Senate has yet to act on it.
Retired Maj. Gen. James W. Comstock dismissed any notion that this is a partisan issue.
"I am a lifelong political conservative, and I believe that government should intervene on a limited and targeted basis," he said. "Early education is not conservative common sense or liberal common sense - it's just plain common sense."
26 million: Raw number representing the 75 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 who are ineligible for military service.
27 percent: Number of young Americans who are too overweight to join the military.
32 percent: That's nearly a third who have problems other than weight that would prevent them from joining.
One in 10: Number of young adults who cannot join the military due to a conviction for a felony or serious misdemeanor.
Published at Daily Press, click view for more information