Kids may look forward to a summer break spent playing video games or watching television, but a new report released Thursday argues that wasted summers can undermine national security by leading to weight gain and academic setbacks.
Such poor outcomes for children are cause for alarm on their own, but a group of retired military leaders believe they also mean fewer qualified candidates for military service.
"What we’re concerned about is that the pool of available recruits is shrinking," retired Major General Paul D. Monroe told NBC News.
Monroe, a member of Mission: Readiness and former commander of the California National Guard, said that even before he retired in 2004, recruiters would report difficulty in finding highly qualified candidates. Many recruiters, he said, work with prospective applicants to improve their academic skills and physical fitness before enlisting.
In California, which the report says is representative of the national rate, nearly a quarter of high school graduates who attempt to enlist do not score high enough on the military's math and literacy tests to be admitted. Nationwide, a quarter of young adults have too much excess body fat to join the military.
Wasted summer breaks, says the report, may be a big part of the problem. Previous research has shown that academic gaps develop over the summer, particularly for low-income students. Studies have also shown that children put on weight faster during the summer.
The report argues that cuts to after-school, physical education and summer programs have made it harder for children to remain active and academically engaged during the summer, and calls for increased funding for such resources.
Monroe said that even though the military is expected to see drastic cutbacks of their own in the coming year, recruiters would still be tasked with finding qualified candidates in order to maintain a professional force.
Monroe, who served for 46 years, said that ending summer slumps for children will be essential to military readiness. "As a nation we’re going to have to decide what is important to us in national security, and we’re going to have to pay for it.
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