Education and the Military

Pentagon producer Luis Martinez blogs: At a Pentagon briefing today, the Pentagon's top personnel officer, Dr. David Chu was asked to respond off-topic to controversy surrounding Sen. John Kerry's comments about the education levels of America's military. (At left, Chu at a 2004 news conference.)

Acknowledging he hasn't seen Kerry's comments, Dr. Chu said from what he's seen in press reports Kerry's comments appear to him to be "off the mark in terms of the facts."

Chu said he'd taken it as a "personal challenge to get the word out about the high level of education and ability in our force today… especially (to) members of our elected legislature." He added, “This is a very fine set of young people, on all dimensions. That includes physical fitness. It includes moral ethics. We demand high standards at the entrance. We hold them to high standards during their period of service."

According to Chu the military's high school graduation rate is greater than the national average and the force exceeds testing standards for the Pentagon's own aptitude tests. He continued that the military encourages additional schooling while in uniform which Chu said results in a "significant fraction" of enlisted personnel "having some college education, an impressive minority earn a college degree and we do have, especially some senior enlisted personnel, who have advanced degrees. The former master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard, for example, is a Ph.D."

To back up his comments, the Pentagon later made available statistics that show the education levels of those in uniform in both the enlisted and officer ranks.

Chu told reporters that most top-level Pentagon officials he'd spoken to were "astonished" by Kerry's remarks given "this is not consistent with the facts as we know them."

He concluded, "The facts are this is a high-quality force, highly educated; more so than the American public at large."

A new Heritage Foundation demographics study of military recruits concludes that contrary to conventional wisdom, the quality of the troops has improved during the War in Iraq. The study was coincidentally released earlier this week. Study author Jim Kane says "U.S. military recruits are more similar than dissimilar to the American youth population...The slight differences are that wartime U.S. military enlistees are better educated, wealthier, and more rural on average than their civilian peers."

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