"Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids" found that up to 75 percent of Americans between 17 and 24 are not able to enlist in the armed forces because they have not graduated from high school, have a criminal record or are physically unfit.
In its report titled "Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve" released Nov. 5, Rear Adm. James Barnett, USN, Ret., said, "We have great concern about the trends" in all the categories. "How do we get ahead of that problem – from birth to age 5?"
Adding, "National security in 2030 absolutely depends on how well early education is doing."
Education Secretary Arne Duncan was present at the press conference that followed the release of the report.
The group is calling on Congress to create an Early Learning Challenge Fund. A bill establishing the fund is under consideration in the Senate after clearing the House this summer.
The proposal would provide grants to the states of $1 billion a year for up to 10 years to improve the quality of early childhood development programs and expand access to more at-risk students.
Duncan said the administration supports the fund. "We know that investing in high-quality early learning programs helps more young people enter school with the skills they need to be successful.
Barnett said, "Head Start serves less than half of those eligible for the program."
Maj. Gen. James Kelley, USA, Ret., said, "The opportunity to graduate from high school skyrockets with [successful] early childhood education" and helps them distinguish between right and wrong.
"We have 15,000 young men and women who want to go into the military, but they can’t. The biggest single reason is obesity," Brig Gen. John Douglass, USAF, Ret., said.
He said only one state had an obesity level below 20 percent for its children. The national average is 32 percent.
Joe Reeder, former under secretary of the Army, said, "It may look like a funny array of folks up here talking about early education, but this is an issue of national security."
Barnett said the Early Learning Challenge Fund would also help industry because young men and women entering the work force would have teachable skills.
Maj. Gen. James Comstock, USA, Ret., who heads up the group, said, "Early education is not conservative common sense or common sense – it’s just plain common sense."
A state-by-state breakdown is available at missionreadiness.org.