As America celebrates its independence, are the young granite staters ready to serve?

As the nation celebrates its independence — and the Revolutionary War heroes who wrested it from the British crown — new data shows that fewer young Americans are ready, or even able, to serve in the US military today. today.

That includes here in New Hampshire, where the percentage of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 joining the military is lower than the national average. However, the quality of Granite State military recruits is the best in the nation, according to a 2019 report. This is an important finding given the declining quality of the recruiting pool.

In congressional testimony, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said only 23 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 meet the minimum qualifications to serve due to obesity, drug use or a criminal record. These potential recruits need a waiver to join.

Not that young people, obese or not, knock on doors to get in. NBC News reports that an internal Department of Defense survey found only 9% of eligible potential recruits were interested in doing so, the lowest number since 2007.

“It’s fair to say that all branches of the military service, including active, National Guard and Reserve, are struggling to recruit,” said Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, director of public affairs for the Guard. New Hampshire National.

And while New Hampshire’s number may be lower than the national average, it still has the distinction of sending more recruits to the military than any other New England state.

Not surprisingly, states with large populations like California and Texas provide the most military recruits. However, the states that send the highest percentage of their military-age population come from the south: South Carolina, Florida, Hawaii, Georgia and Alabama top the list.

The New England region ranks at the bottom of the scale.

Heilshorn said the high quality of New Hampshire recruits was due in part to the fact that there were so few of them. This gives recruiters time to work with recruits and prepare them for entry into basic training.

“We can have a greater impact on the training of our new hires – a more hands-on approach preparing them for basic training and their advanced individual training, collectively referred to as initial entry training,” Heilshorn said. “In the New Hampshire Army National Guard, we have a recruit training company, which runs our recruit retention program. Thus, recruits are better equipped physically and mentally to excel during their initial training. The NH Army Guard has consistently ranked among the top states in quality enlistments.

Dave Medlock, 45, from Exeter, joined the army in 1999 when he was in his early twenties. He dreamed of going to officer training school, but eventually spent eight years in an army medical evacuation unit, serving tours in Bosnia and Iraq. He said his time in the military had a lasting and positive impact on his life.

“Overall it was fantastic. The best part was the people,” Medlock said. “I have so much respect and admiration for the people I served with, just an incredible group of people. Serving in a medical evacuation unit, the goal of saving lives attracted the best people imaginable . »

Medlock had family members who served in the military, which gave him a sense of duty and responsibility. His grandfather served as a colonel during World War II. A father himself now, Medlock said the younger generation doesn’t have the same sense of patriotism.

“Young people today have a very different attitude about what constitutes freedom and responsibility,” Medlock said. “They don’t even see a way into it.”

The culture as a whole portrays military service negatively, and love for America among Americans continues to decline. According to the latest Gallup Poll, a record 38% of Americans say they are “extremely proud” to be American.

Medlock said his military service gave him the training and education necessary to succeed as a civilian. He works as director of operations for a private aircraft company managing 200 pilots and nearly 50 aircraft.

“The reason I have this job now, where I make a really good living, is because of my military experience,” Medlock said.

Heilshorn said he believed many factors were behind the general decline in military service.

“Our current challenges in meeting annual recruiting goals stem from a number of factors, including a shrinking pool of eligible young men and women, higher standards to be met for enlistment, and a labor market tense,” Heilshorn said.

Heilshorn said there is an ebb and flow in military enlistment and, more importantly, retention. The military branches want to keep the personnel they have trained as long as possible. For the New Hampshire National Guard, Heilshorn said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped keep soldiers.

“Generally, our total number on duty has hovered around 2,700 citizen-soldiers and airmen. We dipped below 2,600 and reached 2,800. Since the pandemic, the retention is particularly strong. We believe this is largely due to the fact that so many of our guards have been activated for extended tours in support of the state’s pandemic relief efforts. There is nothing more inspiring than for a soldier or an airman to be on a mission, to do their job, whether it is abroad or in their own community.

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