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The military's role in rebuilding America.

In the past two years, the world has witnessed unprecedented events that have altered the precepts of national security policy developed since World War II. The United States is leaving an era that required large numbers of U.S. combat forces overseas, operating in forward locations at high states of combat readiness.

At the same time, the nation is facing serious challenges at home. We are vulnerable not where the Berlin Wall once stood, but within the walls of our classrooms, our factories, and our housing projects, As the defense establishment undergoes restructuring to meet the challenges of a post-Cold-War world, there is an opportunity to match some of the freed resources with critical domestic needs.

In the past year, Congress authorized a broad spectrum of programs to facilitate defense conversion, reinvestment, and transition assistance. These programs included initiatives to encourage civil-military cooperative actions; to expand youth programs; and to assist in the transition of defense workers into other fields. Three of these initiatives are particularly relevant to the challenge of improving education and training.

For our nation to achieve strong economic growth in the coming years, we must prepare our work force to compete successfully in the global marketplace. In a recent survey, 41 percent of executives of mid-sized businesses said that they believe workforce competence has declined over the past decade. Over 30 percent said that their employees needed remedial education in basic skills. The survey said that the shortage of educated, competent workers is increasing pressure on executives to export jobs--not to cut costs but to find competent people.

In our education system, the first training ground of our work force, many weaknesses are evident. An estimated 5 million children under age 12 suffer from hunger. Many lack day-care opportunities and adequate parental attention. In a recent series of achievement tests taken by students in 13 countries, U.S. twelfth-graders came in second-to-last in mathematics and last in science. In the inner cities, fewer than half the students graduate from high school. Such educational deficiencies can choke off an individual's future professional development and diminish the nation's long-term productivity and growth.

In looking for ways to reverse this trend, many experts have identified lessons to learn from other nations. In England, every public school can direct its own budget to meet specific needs of the student body. In Germany, 70 percent of high-school students take advantage of corporate-sponsored vocational apprenticeships that are training the next generation of workers. In France, public pre-schools serve 85 percent of three-year-olds and 100 percent of five-year-olds. Well-paid teachers in Japan spend 40 percent of the school day preparing lessons and developing new teaching tools. Japanese "kyoiku mamas" (education mothers) have been enlisted in a national campaign to promote studying.

Although we should study these ideas, we might find more immediate benefit in tapping a unique American asset. Over the past 50 years, the United States has built the most advanced and expert military establishment in the world. In addition to producing sophisticated weapons and equipment, the military has developed impressive capabilities in education, training, and other skills with nonmilitary applications. The challenge is to take advantage of these assets in a manner that is at once consistent with military needs and useful to domestic efforts to address critical problems.

As the nation restructures its armed forces over the next decade, the attention of DOD civilian and military leadership must remain focused on training the armed forces for their military missions. In the course of that training, however, the military can assist in meeting domestic needs in health care, nutrition, education, and infrastructure that cannot be met by current or anticipated government and private-sector resources.

New programs approved

Congress established the Civil-Military Cooperative Action Program to provide a statutory basis for the military services to provide domestic assistance to local communities. Any project under this program must be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with the military mission of the unit in question. The project must fill a need that is not otherwise being met and should not compete with the private sector or government agencies. Finally, the program cannot become a basis for justifying additional overall defense expenditures or for retaining excess military personnel.

One significant application of this program could be to help satisfy the basic health-care needs that form the foundation for learning, The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimate that fewer than half of all U.S. children are fully immunized against diseases such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, and rubella. Infant vaccination and basic medical treatment are services that the military routinely provides in humanitarian missions abroad. Hence, the National Guard medical task forces are developing a plan to offer basic health services in many communities in which the Guard serves. This plan is not a cure-all but a means to provide basic services to those who otherwise would not have access to them.

The military can also help civilian authorities address the serious problem of hunger in America. One in eight children in the United States suffers from hunger. Meanwhile, the military has extensive food-storage, preparation, and distribution systems, Military units responsible for these systems, including those in the National Guard and Reserve, could play an important role as part of their training in the distribution of surplus food. Under the Civil-Military Cooperative Action Program, the units could, as part of the preparation for their basic mission, help provide transportation, storage, and preparation assistance to federal, state, and local agencies.

American soldiers have established a reputation for humanitarian service and compassion around the world. Now they can direct this same energy to our needs here at home. The 397,000 black and 93,000 Hispanic men and women who serve their country with honor and pride in their regular training are excellent role models. Doing their jobs in public housing projects, health centers, and schools, they can be powerful examples in areas where they are needed most.

A second program enacted by Congress in 1992 was the National Guard Civilian Youth Opportunities Program. The legislation permits the National Guard Bureau to enter into agreements with the governors of up to 10 states to conduct a pilot program for high-school dropouts and disadvantaged youth. The program's mission is to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of military-based training to improve "life skills" (personal care, responsibility, discipline) and employability in this group.

In the Guard's "Challenge" program, for example, 3,000 young people in 10 states will spend five months on military bases learning life skills and high-school-level language and math skills, along with job skills in computer programming, electronics, and construction, among others. The Guard will encourage its members--many of whom are business owners and community leaders--to hire and support graduates of the Challenge program.

At-risk students targeted

Another program, the Science and Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration (STARBASE), has combined the resources of teachers, military personnel, and corporate sponsors to promote strong science, math, and technology education for students in elementary through high school. Headquartered at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, the STARBASE programs target at-risk students who lack strong role models and solid educational backgrounds and whose lives have been affected by drug abuse.

As part of the program, the National Guard has created an aerospace science and math training facility at Selfridge. Now, when F-16 pilots tell students how they must read directions carefully and solve basic equations quickly to fly safely, the students begin to understand why their multiplication and division homework is so important.

In a total of five youth-oriented programs such as Challenge and STARBASE, the National Guard plans to assist 15,000 disadvantaged children and young adults in the next year.

The Congress has authorized a broad range of new programs to assist military and civilian personnel who will leave the defense establishment in the next several years due to force reductions. Coupled with these programs are a number of initiatives that encourage highly trained personnel to enter critical public-service occupations in fields such as health care, law enforcement, and teaching. One initiative would authorize military personnel with 15 to 20 years of service to retire early and earn additional retirement credit. Individuals who retire under this provision to take jobs in critical areas of social need can increase their retirement years of service credit by one year for each year of employment up to 20 years.

Responding to this, a number of states have already begun adjusting teacher certification criteria to attract qualified military personnel into the public schools. In Texas, former Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby--noting that 36 percent of military officers hold advanced degrees, many in math and science--has launched a campaign to recruit, train, and support outstanding military personnel in teaching careers.

The state of Texas cleared bureaucratic hurdles with an alternative certification program and a certification waiver--the most practical way to enable individuals from diverse career backgrounds to teach. In addition to teaching, some of these highly disciplined men and women, who work with young people every day in the military, can serve as excellent role models as teachers' aides. They can help maintain order in the classroom so that teachers can focus on teaching. Since the recent startup of the Texas Military Initiative, about 100 former military personnel have joined the Texas school system. The new teachers and aides, according to numerous reports, are achieving remarkable success.

Another project under way is a program designed to train departing military personnel for key public-sector jobs. Under the auspices of a program called Leadership Employment for Armed Services Personnel (LEAP), 50 recently separated military personnel received training in public-housing management and maintenance to promote stability and the development of role models in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

"The original idea was to seed the public housing sites with good role models where the residents--especially children--have such limited opportunities," said Beverly Bunn, an administrator for the program at the Department of Health and Human Services. "Most of the residents are single mothers. We thought that if you could have good role models in the projects, it could show kids by example that you can be a success."

The success of these initiatives and the broader programs of which they are a part will depend on the vigor, creativity, and perseverance with which the new administration puts them into action. The immediate challenge will be to organize and focus the responsible agencies--the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services, state and local agencies, and others--on implementation and cooperation.

An unprecedented opportunity exists to use Defense Department resources--particularly the talent and skills of men and women in uniform--to meet some of our pressing domestic needs. Obviously, the military cannot solve all our problems. Programs have to be carefully designed and executed so as not to compromise the military mission and not to duplicate the activities of the public and private sectors. But as Challenge, STARBASE, the Texas Military Initiative, and LEAP demonstrate, the potential is great to use our past investment in national security to meet critical needs at home and to give our children a leg up in life. I hope the new administration, individual communities, and private citizens move swiftly to use the military's capabilities to create tangible opportunity for those in need.

Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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Author:Nunn, Sam
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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