Police Group Creates Military Spin-Off

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A new organization that advocates funding youth programs drew a lot of media coverage last month by releasing a report that says most U.S. youth are not ready to serve in the military. But behind the new group, Mission: Readiness, was a familiar face in the youth field – the group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

The new organization, which pushes for investments in early education as a national security measure, is a spinoff of Fight Crime, which enlists police chiefs and other law enforcement officials to support spending on after-school and early education programs as a crime prevention strategy.

Mission: Readiness replaces the police chiefs of Fight Crime with retired army generals, who warned at a news conference last month of a looming national security risk, because so many youth would be disqualified from military service because of poor academic records, poor physical condition or criminal records.

Mission: Readiness National Director Amy Dawson Taggart co-founded Fight Crime in 1995. Fight Crime and Mission: Readiness share a downtown Washington office with two other youth advocacy groups, and all four work under the oversight of their corporate parent, the Council for a Strong America.

Dawson Taggart doesn’t trumpet the links among the groups, but says there are benefits of being tightly attached to an established organizational model. “We had already done so many years worth of research as to what was effective keeping kids in high school,” she said of Fight Crime.

In reaching out to retired generals to deliver the message in a different way, she said, “When you can mobilize people who had been in positions of power around an issue they care deeply about and give them the solutions that are evidence-based and make sense, they will get active.”

Dawson Taggart said Mission: Readiness “will look to [Fight Crime] for sources of research and policy opportunities.” However, some recent research is specific to Mission: Readiness’ goals.

The organization’s report unveiled last month – Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve – cited a Defense Department official who estimated that 75 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds cannot join the military because of academic shortcomings (such as being high school dropouts), health problems (mostly weight) and criminal records. The report embraces research showing that investing in education is the best solution to reducing the number of youth unfit to serve.

To those who think 75 percent seems rather high, Dawson Taggart said the figure is drawn from each state’s data on obesity, dropouts and crime and called it “pretty solid.” In October, the Defense Department said that in fiscal 2009, the military met all of its recruitment goals for the first time since creating an all-volunteer force in 1973.

Contact: Mission: Readiness (202) 464-5224, http://www.missionreadiness.org.