On this very day 243 years ago, the United States Army was born. Our nation was built on the backs of soldiers who fought for freedom, and for centuries, soldiers have continued to defend those freedoms.
For the last four decades, the soldiers raising their right hands for the American way of life have volunteered to do so. The all-volunteer force has transformed the way we work toward peace and stability as a nation. It has also overhauled the level of quality we require.
There is a reason the U.S. Army is one of the most respected organizations in the world — its people. Our U.S. Army is filled with fully qualified, trained and educated individuals who have a desire to serve.
Unfortunately, we are challenged with finding enough young Americans who meet our cognitive, physical and moral requirements and also want to serve.
As the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Baton Rouge, I see amazing young people across Louisiana, Mississippi and West Tennessee wanting to dedicate time in service to our nation. Sadly, I also see how societal issues impact the ability of so many to even meet the qualifications to serve.
More than 70 percent of young people do not meet the requirements because of obesity, mental and physical health problems, drugs, law violations and aptitude.
I also see a major problem with public perception, and it will impact the future of our nation’s Army if we don’t work together as a community to fix it.
About 50 percent of today’s youth admit they know little to nothing about the U.S. military. Many can’t even name all the services. If they don’t understand the caliber of our soldiers or the educational and career opportunities available to them, they will never consider service as an option. We are depriving young Americans of an opportunity to mature, develop strong decision-making abilities, and gain skills that will help them throughout their lives.
They don’t know their Army will pay for their education and offers housing allowances, health care, retirement, family support and many other benefits well beyond what normally is found in the private sector.
They don’t know nearly every career available in the private sector is also available in the U.S. Army.
Not everyone can or should choose the Army as a career path; however, young people deserve a chance to make an informed decision about their future. They deserve to understand every path — work, technical education, community colleges, universities, and yes, the military, too — so they can find the one that best suits their future goals.
It is a fact that veterans are more likely to vote, volunteer and be involved in their communities. Student veterans are more likely to graduate, earn higher GPAs, and select more academically rigorous degrees. Veterans also make more money than their non-veteran counterparts at the same educational level. Why wouldn’t we want to encourage youth to grow through service and become the leaders our nation needs?
I challenge community leaders, educators and parents throughout your city to learn more about your Army. Don’t make assumptions or allow misperceptions about service or the quality of our Soldiers to spread. Take the time to get to know the soldiers and veterans in your community — learn about what they do and how their service has impacted their lives. I think you will be very surprised with what you find.
To have the best soldiers serving our nation as engineers, logisticians, nurses, human resources specialists and so much more, our Army needs your support to educate and encourage youth to learn about military service and consider it as a career option.
We need you to be ambassadors of the all-volunteer force to help continue the legacy of the soldiers who have fought for our way of life for the last 243 years. Help celebrate this year’s Army birthday by connecting with local soldiers and veterans to learn more about what he Army has to offer youth in our community.
Lt. Col. Eric M. Saulsbury is a 20-year Army veteran with several deployments in support of humanitarian, peacekeeping and combat operations. He is commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Baton Rouge.