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Education Nation

Commentary: It Takes Keeping Up With The Competition-Workforce

Army Major George Weilhamer, of Greenwood, Ind., talks with a recruiter from Liberty Mutual at a job fair in Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 23, 2011. Weilhamer is retiring from the Army in April. Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, evidence that layoffs are slowing and employers may be stepping up hiring.(AP Photo/Michael Conroy) ASSOCIATED PRESS

For some, recruiting the best and brightest for the U.S. Army and tackling the challenges we face in educating our nation’s youth may not seem related. But from my perspective, America’s national and economic security is directly tied to the education of our young people and ensuring they are fully prepared for their futures.

Consider this jarring statistic: in America today, only one out of four 17-24 year olds is eligible for service in the armed forces. This is primarily because the ineligible 75% lack a high school diploma or have poor grades. Just look at our high school drop-out rates: nearly one out of three public high school students fail to graduate from high school with their class. For our minority students, the statistics are even worse.

The end results of these issues are not confronting the military alone. They are our collective challenge, and are a clear harbinger of a national education problem. I recognize the efforts of NBC News Education Nation for casting the spotlight on these challenges and the concerns we all share about preparing our next generation for successful futures, especially in important Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. I also appreciate the opportunity to be able to address these issues.

How do we instill a desire for learning in our children, close the skills gap, and prepare our youth for higher education, the workforce, and in our case, service in the U.S. Army? No organization or government institution can do it alone.

For our part, the Army has been building partnerships with principals, educators, coaches, parents, and civic leaders who support academic growth and achievement in all students. Educators and like-minded people can influence the life decisions of our youth, and share our vested interest in educating and preparing our young people for higher education, future careers, and trades of which military service can be the destination or a launching pad to further success.

Through these partnerships, we’re working with educators to develop programs that teach the importance of leadership, education, and fitness to our next generation. One such program is March2Success, a free, online tool that helps students improve both their grades and standardized test scores on a variety of topics like math, science, and verbal skills. Likewise, our JROTC program utilizes accredited curriculum to help instill the values of citizenship, selfless service, integrity and a sense of accomplishment in more than 1,600 high schools across the country. Through our Strengthening America’s Youth Committee work, we partner with a wide variety of organizations to promote leader development for today’s youth and address some of the obstacles to that goal – STEM education deficiencies, obesity and poor nutrition, and a lack of education resources.

Using this holistic approach to address these challenges for all students, not just potential recruits, we have developed impactful programs that are closing the education gap.

I’m proud of the Army’s programs, but prouder still of our collaboration with educators to discuss the challenges and find solutions for our next generation of leaders: the scientists, mathematicians, doctors, and engineers, both military and civilian, who will advance our society and help make our world a better place.