Powell: 'Pretty Shocking' That So Many American Youths Lack Smarts, Fitness for Military

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses an event to mark the 60th anniversary of the integration of the armed forces in the Capitol Rotunda on July 23, 2008. (Defense Department photo)

WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said too many young people do not qualify for military service due in part to obesity and criminal records, which is reflective of many “scary” problems in local communities that must be addressed.


Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton, was asked why he thinks more African-Americans should join the military.

“I’m very, very thankful that they do, and they join the military for a variety of reasons: a combination of patriotism, looking for a change in their life experience at that point, travel or serving their country, just serving their country. And many of them go in because, frankly, it’s a steady wage every month,” Powell said during a discussion at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Avoice Heritage Celebration recognizing African-American veterans.

“More importantly, the benefits when you come out are very significant, and so it’s good. One of the problems we’re having, and this is scary, it’s not just the African-American community, it’s all of our American young people,” he added.

According to Powell, only about 25 percent of Americans 18 to 25 years old are able to meet the qualifications for military service. He said the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) “timed multi-aptitude test” is not that hard to pass.

“They can’t get through the basic exam that we give them. Now, c’mon, it’s not that hard of a test, but even high school kids who graduated high school can’t get through this exam. Secondly, criminal records; third, drug use; and fourth, obesity. And if you are very obese the army doesn’t want that medical problem, rightly. So we still get the number we need but it is pretty shocking that only 25 percent of our young people are eligible for service,” he said.


“This reflects a lot of problems we are having in our communities with nutrition, healthcare, education and teaching something I was taught when I was a child – how to mind people, mind your mom, mind your school,” he added. “If I had ever come home and said, ‘I don’t like school. I want to drop out,’ they would have dropped me out. ‘We’ll go get us another kid, we don’t need you.’ We’ve got to restore that sense of discipline, that sense of responsibility in our young people. We have a lot of problems in our communities and young people are not doing what they need to do to be successful in life.”

Powell called for universal healthcare for all Americans as a way to help solve nutritional problems among young people.

“Universal healthcare for all of our people, and it works,” Powell, a retired general, said. “I’ve had universal healthcare for the last 60 years and it worked.”

Powell also emphasized that young people need “responsible, caring and loving adults” around them or they will find a “bad adult to follow” instead.

He named a series of solutions that should be implemented for young people including the creation of “more safe places where they can learn and grow, more after-school programs” and teaching young people to “serve others” as well as making sure “your child is getting a quality education that will lead to work.”

Powell was honored at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event with the Distinguished Pioneer in the U.S. Military and National Security Award “for his accomplishments as a historic trailblazer for black veterans.”


Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), an Army veteran, was recognized with the Distinguished Veteran Service and Champion Award; also honored were other African-American members of Congress who served in the military. After Powell received his award, Butterfield came on stage and told Powell that during his two years of service he “did not get an opportunity to ever meet or salute an African-American general.”

“My father served in World War I. He served in the artillery in France in the Battle of Alsace-Lorraine, nor did he get an opportunity to meet his hero Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr.,” Butterfield said. “So I come to you tonight to give you a salute on behalf of my father and on behalf of my childhood friends that did not return from the battlefield of Vietnam.”

Butterfield saluted Powell onstage, drawing applause from the audience.


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