Mission Readiness press conference 030118

Retired military brass asked Louisiana legislators Thursday, March 1, 2018, to prioritize early child care and education because 75 percent of the state's young adults don't qualify to join the armed forces. From left to right are U.S. Army Brigadier General (Ret.) Gary Jones, of Alexandria; U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral (Ret.) David Callahan, of New Orleans; Jamie Lockhart, national director of the Washington, D.C.-based Mission: Readiness organization; Baton Rouge State Reps. Stephen Carter, a Republican, and Patricia Smith, a Democrat; and U.S. Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Ron Richard, of Baton Rouge.

Advocate Photo by Mark Ballard

A group of retired military brass visited the State Capitol Thursday to point out that 75 percent of Louisiana’s young adults can’t qualify for military service.

Of that group of men and women, between the ages of 17 and 24, who fail to meet the minimum requirements to sign up for the armed forces, about a third don't have the necessary educational attainments, another third are too fat, and another third have criminal records and substance abuse issues, said Rear Admiral (Ret.) David Callahan, who commanded the U.S. Coast Guard district headquartered in New Orleans.

U.S. Marine Corps Major General (Ret.) Ron Richard, of Baton Rouge, said improving early childhood development and educational programs are not only “the right thing to do” for the people of Louisiana but finding enough qualified personnel to fill the ranks of the armed forces is a matter of security for the nation. “Who is going to stand fast and man the wall to keep the demons out?” he said.

The military leaders weren’t pushing specific programs at the Legislature, but wanted the issue front and center as state lawmakers struggle to find a way to fund state services in the face of a nearly $1 billion revenue shortfall.

U.S. Army Brigadier General (Ret.) Gary Jones, who also is head of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said early child care programs lay the foundation for successful learning, encourage children to lead more active lives and develop better social skills.

They hope lawmakers will prioritize fund for Louisiana’s Child Care Assistance Program, where enrollment dropped from almost 40,000 children in 2007 to 17,000 in 2017 and now a wait list. Additionally, focus should be placed on affordable day care programs to allow parents to remain in the workforce, according to the retired military leaders.

A dozen retired generals and admirals signed a letter that was distributed to Louisiana legislators. They are part of a national push – organized by a Washington, D.C.-based group of 700 retired military leaders called Mission Readiness – to improve the skills of the age group from which the military draws its recruits.

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