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ARMY EDUCATIONAL AND RECRUITING INITIATIVE BRIEFING

Presenter: Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera
February 03, 2000 2:45 PM EDT

Thursday, February 3, 2000 - 2:47 p.m. EST

(Also participating in the briefing: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, Sergeant Major of the Army Robert E. Hall, Secretary of Education Richard Riley, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of America's Promise, Maj. Gen. Gil Meyer, Director of Public Affairs for the Army. P.J. Crowley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Public Affairs, introduced the briefing.)

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon.

Secretary of Defense Cohen is on his way to Europe, as you know, for the Wehrkunde Conference. Otherwise, I have confidence he would be here himself to welcome Secretary of Education Riley and the Army leadership and General Colin Powell for this important briefing.

These are issues which are important to the Department of Defense, as well as the military services. You know, our ability to succeed in the 21st century will depend on America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and our ability both to recruit and retain America's finest. We know we are in a pitched battle in this booming economy for America's finest young people and are competing with colleges, are competing with civilian industry, are trying to work hard to help people understand that the military is still hiring, and that we need to have those "influencers" who are willing to push America's young men and women towards considering the military as one of their career options.

We as a Department have worked hard in terms -- in the last couple of years in particular -- as we have reversed the tide on defense spending and have focused on things like pay, compensation, retirement reform; and this year, as you'll hear next week when Secretary Cohen presents the defense budget, initiatives on things like housing and health care, which are all important to its building support for the military and giving a fair compensation, fair wage, fair opportunity for our young people in uniform.

So the Department fully supports the Army and what it's going to be unveiling today. And to get the program started, the director of Public Affairs for the Army, Major General Gil Meyer.

GEN. MEYER: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today as we formally announce the national roll-out of two major educational and recruiting programs for America's youth and our Army.

This afternoon, I am privileged to introduce our first speaker, the 17th secretary of the Army, the Honorable Louis Caldera.

SEC. CALDERA: Thank you, Gil.

Today, we announce two important new recruiting initiatives, College First and GED Plus, the Army's high school completion program.

I want to start by saying this is not all that we are doing to improve recruiting. We are adopting best-business practices that are going to lead to better research, better marketing decisions, better advertising.

We are -- have initiatives that will lead to better selection, training, equipping, and deploying of our recruiting force. And we're also improving our in-service education opportunities for soldiers, especially through distance learning, so that soldiers can more easily work on achieving their personal educational goals while they serve their country.

One of the biggest challenges to recruiting today is not just a strong economy, but it's the fact that the number of young people going directly to college after graduating from high school is at a historic high. Seventy-two percent of high school graduates go on to two- and four-year colleges. They don't all complete their education in two to four years, but that's the direction they're heading. So the central point is that our traditional recruiting market -- the non-college-bound high school graduate -- is disappearing.

Today's initiatives are going to expand the market of young people that we are trying to recruit by offering something to both those who are heading to college and those who did not finish high school in the traditional way, but who have the desire and the ability to serve as soldiers.

College First is going to allow us the opportunity to offer up to 6,000 young Americans the chance to earn a two-year degree before coming into the Army. Some of those will be enrolled in Reserve units, and they will earn their drilling pay as part of their compensation. Others will be enrolled in the delayed-entry pool, and they will receive a $150 stipend throughout those two years of education. Once they finish their education, or after two years, they will come into the Army and must serve a minimum two-year enlistment.

Those who have college loans can pay off those loans through our college loan repayment program, or take advantage of our other signing bonuses and incentive programs.

The second program, GED Plus, the Army's high school completion program, will allow us to offer up to 6,000 selected young people the opportunity to earn a General Equivalency Degree at our expense before they begin their basic training. Four thousand of those will go into the active component; 2,000, into the Reserve components.

Not everybody who did not finish high school is eligible for these programs.

These individuals have to meet important selection criteria that will ensure that we maintain our high quality standards for the soldiers that we recruit, and will help ensure that this program does not result in our recruiting individuals whose attrition rates are significantly higher than those for our high school graduate recruits.

That criteria includes: They must be in the top half-mental aptitude of their peers; that is, score in the top half of the entrance examination. They must score well in a motivation examination. They will not have drug, alcohol or moral waivers. In other words, they have to have spotless personal records. They must have left school voluntarily, not been separated for discipline problems; and they must be ineligible to return to school -- that is, older -- 19, 20, 21, 22. We are not creating incentives for any young person to drop out from high school. Indeed, the Army is a strong supporter of stay-in-school programs that will lead more young people to graduate from high school.

We believe that there are as many as half a million young people in America who meet the GED Plus selection criteria, many of them minority and low-income youth who need a second chance and who have the desire and the ability to serve well and faithfully as soldiers in our Army.

I know that not only can these recruits be successful as soldiers, but that they will go on to earn associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees while they serve in uniform, as represented by the two outstanding soldiers that we have here today from the 82nd Airborne Division.

These programs will not be offered in all parts of the country, but as part of a three-year test approved by Secretary Cohen to demonstrate the value of these initiatives. I want to thank Secretary Cohen and Undersecretary Rudy De Leon for their support of these initiatives, that I believe will prove not only to be good for the Army, but good for America. I want to thank Secretary Riley for his help and support in the Army's education initiatives. This is not the first time that he is with us.

And I thank General Powell, our former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for his support. There is no more respected individual in America who has worn the uniform of our country. He is an individual who can inspire all of America's youth to appreciate the importance and benefits of serving our nation in uniform, and to challenge them to consider what their obligation is to serve our nation in uniform. Today, as chairman and CEO of America's Promise, he is working tirelessly on behalf of America's youth, including to ensure that they have marketable skills and opportunity for the future.

We also have with us today, representatives of the American Council on Education. And last, but not least, I want to acknowledge my partners in leading America's Army, our Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, and our top enlisted adviser on all matters affecting our soldiers, the Sergeant Major of the Army, Robert Hall.

GEN. MEYER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Washington Post columnist David Broder called our next speaker "one of the most decent and honorable people in public life." Although he is a Navy veteran, he certainly embodies the Army values of integrity and duty. A two-time governor of his native South Carolina, where he won national recognition for improving education, his commitment to bettering the lives of children is legendary.

Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary of Education, Richard Riley.

SEC. RILEY: Thanks very much. I think it all goes to show you can be decent and honorable and be in the Navy! (Laughter.)

I am proud to be here in strong support of these well-thought-out, very important initiatives that we're opening up here today. I have with me Trish McNeil, my assistant secretary for Vocational and Adult Ed; Lieutenant Juan Garcia, who is our White House Fellow that's assigned to the Department of Education, also a Naval officer; Sarita Brown, who is here, is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative for Hispanic Education.

And I thank you, General Meyer, and all of those who are here to make this announcement. I'm proud of all of you.

You know, all of us have just witnessed this birth of the new century and the new millennium, and it brings with it a great deal of hope and promise. Nowhere does that potential shine more than when it intersects with the opportunities that are given by a quality education.

I think at no time has the level and quality of education that a person receives had a greater impact on that person and their professional success than education does today. It is very, very important for an American to have their dreams reached. When historians look back upon this time, I'm confident they will mark it as a critical point in history, kind of a new age of education.

And that's why it's so critical, really, for every young person to have this opportunity to finish school and be well prepared to continue learning for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, too many young people, even those who are motivated and who are well intentioned, often cannot overcome obstacles of their young lives. They drop out -- often family-connected things, helping a family that's struggling to make ends meet. But when we are able to return these young people to the world of learning, we make their future and our nation's future more promising.

Let me relate to you a story of one such person and the power of a second chance at education.

A young high school student from South Texas faced hard times some years ago and had to leave school before receiving his degree. After a period of struggle, this young man earned his GED, and then he enlisted in the military. He was sent to Vietnam, served his country with distinction, earning a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.

Upon his return, he used the GI Bill to get his college degree, and then continued his education with law school, a master's in law from Yale, and another master's degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard.

That young man went on to represent South Texas in the U.S. Congress. Unfortunately, the country lost this fine individual, Congressman Frank Tejeda. He died of cancer some three years ago, after really a lifetime of public service.

But there are so many good and capable individuals, like Congressman Tejeda, whom we cannot give up on, people who want and will benefit from a second chance for education.

This GED Plus program will offer this kind of opportunity. And it does not encourage students to leave school. The secretary pointed that out. Potential candidates must meet high standards, higher, in fact, than traditional high school graduates. Thus, this initiative is entirely consistent with the ongoing efforts of our nation's schools to raise standards of learning. At a time when the high school dropout rate is still too high, but particularly for individuals from minority communities, and when statistics show that those who drop out do dramatically less well than those who finish their education, this program, I think, has the potential to bring tens of thousands of motivated young men and women back into the world of learning and the world of success.

With this renewal of educational opportunity comes the exponential increase in earning and learning power for the individual and their families and for this great nation. And I look forward very much to following the results of this pilot program, and I am very excited to be here and be part of this announcement.

GEN. MEYER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

President George Bush called our next speaker a complete soldier, a distinguished scholar, with a breadth of judgment and experiences and with total integrity. As chairman of America's Promise, our next speaker embodies the American dream. Today he is the leader of a crusade building character and competence in America's youth. Allow me to welcome back General Colin Powell to a place he knows oh so well, the DOD briefing room. (Laughter.)

GEN. POWELL: The sweat starts to drip. (Laughter.)

It is a great pleasure to be back in the Pentagon Briefing Room. And Secretary Caldera, Secretary Riley, a pleasure to be with you, as well as with my good friend Eric Shinseki, and Sergeant Major of the Army, and these other wonderful soldiers; and especially to be here really in two capacities, in one sense representing the "old geezer" community -- (laughter) -- who was there at the very beginning, when we began the all-volunteer force back in the early '70s, and now a different kind of army that I'm trying to lead, of youngsters who are at risk, we say, and we intend to make them youngsters of promise with my work with America's Promise.

And I'm very honored that I was invited to endorse this program today, these two programs, because they are exactly the kind of thing we anticipated we would be doing in the course of the development of the all-volunteer Army. The services have to use all the tools available to them to compete in whatever that labor market happens to be at the time. In the early '70s, it was very, very tough, those of you who remember it. We rebuilt the armed forces using that all-volunteer concept, by giving our service leaders and giving the recruiters and giving all involved in recruitment the tools they needed to do the job well.

And we showed that if you use those tools properly and if you continue to experiment with new tools, you can continue to have the finest armed forces on the face of the earth. And that we have proven that over time.

As the secretary has described it, we have a more difficult environment that we're recruiting in now. And these two new program, GED-Plus and College First, give those recruiters new tools to work with. And I think they are exciting. What I am particularly excited about is that they don't lower standards.

When I first heard about them, I said, now, wait a minute, we've been down this road before. We know why we want high school graduates. They have a tendency to be more adaptable to military life. And with this program now that has been fleshed out, and with my understanding of it, and I know the commitment that the Army leaders bring to it, we should have no fears that in any way we're going to lower the standards of the United States Army. What we are saying is that there are young people out there who need a second chance, as you've heard described already, who for one reason or another did not finish their education. And we're going to give them that opportunity: bring them into the service, make sure they understand our standards, make sure they meet those standards, they get their education, let them come in, and there is no doubt that they can be as competitive as any other soldier that we have recruited via any other means.

I think that it is wonderful that we are giving these youngsters a second chance. With America's Promise I am trying to give youngsters a second chance and also other youngsters their first chance, to make sure that all of the young people of America who are facing this challenging 21st century get the character development they need to be successful in this demanding economy, this demanding world we're entering, to make sure that they get the confidence they need to be successful, to make sure they get the marketable skills they need, and to make sure that they have a chance to serve the nation in one way or another, or to serve their community.

This is what I tried to do with soldiers for my 35 years in the Army, trying to do it with younger kids now. And it is such a pleasure for me to become a partner with the Army in this new effort. I'll be talking about it, I'll be making sure that communities across America understand the challenge we have in recruiting, and the tools that are available to meet that challenge, because as I tell all of my audiences around the country, we are in a wonderful strategic situation. For the first time in a hundred years we have no ideology out there that can compete with ours: communism gone, fascism gone, Nazism gone. It's democracy, the free enterprise system. And we should welcome the opportunities that are now before us.

But at the same time, we have to make sure we don't make the mistakes of the past by allowing our armed forces to deteriorate. The best insurance policy we have to take advantage of these new strategic opportunities is the very best armed forces on the face of the Earth. We are number one now; we want to keep it that way.

We keep it that way with the proper investment in readiness and in procurement, and in all the other things we need. But above all, we keep it that way by encouraging wonderful young men and women to come into the armed forces, and especially my beloved Army, to serve for a few years or for a career, and in that service, help protect this nation.

And so it's important that we use all means available to us to go out to all parts of the community to draw in these kinds of youngsters to serve the nation and to serve to the highest standards; the standards that we have set over the last 25 years, and the standards that we must not allow to be lowered. These two programs serve this purpose very, very well, and I congratulate the Army leadership for developing them and for announcing them today, and I look forward to helping in the implementation.

Thank you very much.

GEN. MEYER: Thank you, General Powell.

The Army's vision says: "Our soldiers provide back to America a corps of leaders who have an unmatched work ethic. We invest today in the nation's leadership for tomorrow."

Our next speaker helps ensure that those soldiers are ready for today's challenges and tomorrow's uncertainty. Allow me to introduce the 34th Chief of Staff of the Army, General Eric Shinseki.

GEN. SHINSEKI: Well thank you, Gil. Secretary Caldera, Secretary Riley, General Powell, good to see you again, sir. Sergeant Major of the Army, Bob Hall. Thanks to all of you, and these great soldiers standing off to the left here, who Sergeant Major Hall will introduce here in a few minutes. Thanks to all of you for the great support and your commitment to GED-Plus and the College First programs that we are unveiling today.

You know, in the Army we say "we are about leadership." That's our stock and trade; that's what we are about day in, day out. Every day the Army focuses on doing two things; one is training soldiers, and two is growing leaders. And as part of that process, these programs provide opportunities, broaden opportunities for young Americans who have proven themselves by test scores and by their own record of performance, that they have what it takes -- the personal drive, the motivation -- to be winners and to participate in this experience of leadership with us.

We have first-rate soldiers in the Army. It's a magnificent Army out there. And these are youngsters with the kinds of leadership instincts we have come to treasure in my 34 years in the Army. And for some reason, there are a number of them who have not always had the opportunity to complete their formal education, and yet they grew up being great contributors to our force.

These two new programs will allow us to access these quality soldiers, provide them the opportunity to gain education as they, in turn, then look to us for that leadership experience that doesn't occur in many other places except standing with us in the formations and the operations that we participate in.

The Army is also about education. It is part of our commitment to our soldiers, not just for their personal developments, but because we have found that education and development of leaders go hand in hand. For example, last year the Army was part of a degree completion program that turned out over 7,500 degrees -- 5,000 of those degrees to enlisted soldiers, about a 1,000 of them bachelor degrees and over 200 master's completion programs -- either through programs that we funded, where folks went back to school, or programs in which we facilitated their pursuit of education.

Soldiers' investment in education is something important to us, and these two new programs are merely an extension of what has been the Army's commitment to education and development of its soldiers.

And so it is my great pleasure to be here today. It is a continuation of the Army's commitment that in this area we'll keep our country strong and competitive in this next century.

Thank you very much.

GEN. MEYER: Thank you, General Shinseki. It is widely known that the non-commissioned officer corps is the backbone of the Army. Our last speaker, quietly thinking, "What do I say that hasn't already been said?" -- (laughter) -- is the strongest part of our leadership link as the personal advisor on all enlisted matters, and is known throughout the Army and the Department of Defense for always telling it like it is, and is one of only 11 soldiers to hold the honor of Sergeant Major of the Army. Ladies and gentlemen, Sergeant Major of the Army, Robert Hall.

SERGEANT MAJOR HALL: Thanks, General Meyer. Secretary Caldera, Secretary Riley, General Powell, General Shinseki, it is a tremendous honor to be able to stand at this platform with these great Americans, but as General Meyer said, once you get past the honor, what you find is, generally, being the fifth of five speakers, there's not a lot left to say. (Laughter.)

So just let me tell you -- let me say that I absolutely support these programs. They are right for our Army, they're right for our nation, and they're right for the youth of America. I've spent time with those young men and women. The programs offer them an opportunity to serve. They open a door that's been closed to them before.

Am I concerned about what kind of soldier that they will be?

Absolutely not. Our noncommissioned officer corps has the responsibility to take them as young men and women, to train, coach, teach, and mentor them to be good soldiers, so that they have the opportunity to develop into great sergeants. I have the utmost confidence in our corps of noncommissioned leaders.

Today we have soldiers in our rank who came in with GEDs. Today they successfully serve at every level of the non-commissioned officer corps. We have two of them with us here today.

Sergeant First Class William Adams began his military career without any real goal. He was like a lot of youth today. Teachers and parents said, "He's a good kid; he's just not living up to his potential."

He'll attest that the Army has given him goals and shown him a focus. He'll tell you that the Army is one place where you're judged on your deeds. He came in the Army without a GED. Today he's done everything that we could ask or expect him to do as a soldier, and he's close to receiving his master's degree.

Staff Sergeant Pamela Brashear. She saw joining the Army as an opportunity to develop herself. She came in with a GED. She wanted to study law and saw that the Army was the best way to do that. Somewhere along the way, she decided that she liked being a soldier. She liked being a leader. She liked the pride that comes with being a part of the Army.

She too has done all the hard work, the long hours that comes with being a soldier. And she too has been successful. And along with that success, she's continued her education, and now she has more than two years of college.

Look, I'm very proud of these young soldiers, just like I am all of our troops. These two represent what's right with our country and our Army. They needed only the opportunity. The rest came from within themselves.

I think that there's a lot of others just like them, that's looking for an opportunity, and I think we owe them that opportunity. This Army has served this nation with distinction for 225 years. My assurance to you is that we'll continue to serve with the same distinction in the future.

Thank you very much.

GEN. MEYER: Thanks, Sergeant Major.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we'll take your questions.

QThis is a kind of nuts-and-bolts question. How much is this going to cost? Do the recruits have to be legal residents of the states that are designated here, or can they go across state lines and sign up?

And can you also give us a recap of last year's recruitment results in the Army?

SEC. CALDERA: Because they have -- the programs are not offered in all parts of the country. And actually, it is related to where you enlist. So you actually could go across the country and take advantage of the program in a place where it is being offered, if you wanted to be able to do that.

And they would -- the schools have to be accredited institutions. And they can pursue any course of study that they want to be able to pursue. We think that the programs together are probably about a $6 million investment per year. I think it's a very good investment to make, to help bring in young people who have the ability to be successful as soldiers.

Last year, we were about 6,000 soldiers short in recruitment. However, we met our end-strength goals because we had record reenlistment. What that tells me is that we have got a good product; we have got a great experience. That's why they reenlist. We have just got to get them to come in the door and try being a soldier.

This year we are doing well in terms of recruitment. We still don't yet have a forecast I can give you for what the year is going to look like. But many of the efforts that we have made to improve recruitment, including sending young people out as hometown recruiters and as recruiting corporals, have helped us get into some of the schools we need to get into and talk to young people -- and are doing better.

QIs there a relationship between the 6,000 that you were short last year and the 6,000 in each program that you are trying --

SEC. CALDERA: No. We -- Rand helped us develop this as a test pilot. And so they helped us in terms of defining what areas we should test-market this in so that we would get valid results, so that we could show differences in recruitment, differences in attrition; depending on whether you get benefits, like signing bonuses and College Savings Plan, versus not getting those benefits.

I believe those young people who get those benefits have a greater stake in fulfilling their contract and their commitment. We should be able to determine whether that is the case or not, as well as how much more this can lead to us. But our personnel experts -- we have our deputy chief of staff for Personnel here, General Ohle; our Recruiting Command commander, General Gaddis -- believe that we can get about 500 more recruits a month just using these programs.

But we are not pinning all of our hopes on these two programs. We are doing all those other things that I talked about earlier, trying to improve every aspect of recruiting so that we can communicate better with young people the kind of opportunities that exist in the Army.

Yes, sir?

Q General Powell and perhaps Sergeant Major Hall also. As I recall, the problems with attrition and recruits that led to the selection of the high school degree and so on as an indicator, that sort of bottomed out in '79, '80.

General Powell, you were getting far enough up in the organization by then that you had a kind of a senior perspective on it.

You've said you're satisfied that the various provisions here mean that there won't be a falloff in quality, and such. I wonder if you could just flesh that out more concretely?

And Sergeant Major, you were the Drill Sergeant of the Year in 1979, so you would have been right in the core of the worst of it. I wonder if you could just a little more concretely crosswalk us from your experience then to what the safeguards are in this program that make you satisfied?

GEN. POWELL: The worst of it were the early '70s, and we started to come out of late '70s, and we blew out of it in the early '80s when the Reagan administration came in in '81 and put the resources to the task.

The reason those of us who were around during those days felt so strongly about the high school graduate was that not only does that person come in with more educational background and demonstrated ability to do work, but they stuck with it, they didn't quit. That was the big thing -- they didn't quit. When adversity came, when the going got a little rough, they had stayed in high school. And that was, we thought, something of a predictor of how they would do when they got into the Army. I still think there is validity to that.

But look at the youngsters we're going after with these two programs. In the case of College First, we're looking at youngsters who have demonstrated that they have that ability, and they want to go on and get more education, and we're giving them an opportunity to get that education and then come into the service. So they clearly are okay.

With respect to the GED-Plus program, we're taking youngsters who had to leave -- they weren't thrown out, but they may have had a situation in the family where they had to go to work for the family, or for whatever reason, they left on their own accord. They don't have any moral problems, they don't have any legal problems, and now they want a second chance. And we're going to give them that second chance. And unless they pay off on that second chance, then they're not going to get the opportunity to serve.

So in effect, when they have completed this program, they have done everything we want them to do, and we wanted high school graduates to do. So I'm comfortable. And General Shinseki and I spent a lot of time talking about this because we had invested so much in the all-volunteer Army that I wanted to be confident that this really brings in a youngster that met those high standards and those high expectations and the predictability that we had with high school graduates all along.

And even now, the Army has a higher percentage of high school graduates than it did at the time of Desert Storm, if I'm not mistaken. And so we can do this, I think, without having any concerns about reliability of the force or lowering of standards, and I think that case can be easily made.

Sergeant?

SERGEANT MAJOR HALL: I was the Drill Sergeant of the Year in '79. I was a drill sergeant from '77 up until that time. If that was the worst of it, let me tell you that that was still one of the best and most rewarding jobs that I've ever had.

What we're doing today with GED Plus -- and I've been out there with these young men and women, and see the dropout rates out of some of our high schools and see where they're going with their life -- these are two examples of high school dropouts right here who have been absolutely success stories as soldiers. They're dropping out for all the right reasons, sometimes -- to take care of a brother or a sister or a parent that's sick, who've got some job experience, got some life skills, and are looking for an opportunity and a challenge in their life. I think the Army can offer them that challenge.

I have every confidence that we're going to get quality because they actually go through a stricter screening than high school diploma graduates do. They have to score in the upper 50 percent on the Armed Forces Qualification Test; they have to score in the upper 75 percent on a assessment of individual motivation test. So these are going through an additional screen that they wouldn't get. They're looking for something. I have seen them out there, and I've felt the fact that they're looking for an opportunity. And once again, I tell you that these are two examples, and we're going to go find the rest of them that's out there just like this, as well as the Sergeant Yorks and the Audie Murphys that are out there. (Laughter.)

QSecretary Caldera, you mentioned distance learning. Can you explain how that would be done?

SEC. CALDERA: Well, because of that statistic that I mentioned, 72 percent of young people go on to college, we know that college is a very important lure for young people. That's good news for America. We don't want soldiers to feel that they have to defer their education in order to serve their country. We want them to be able to learn while they serve, take advantage of our in-service education opportunities, the chance to work on their college education while they serve, as these two soldiers did, and today, with all of the colleges putting their content on line, one of the best ways for us to deliver those in-service education opportunities is through the Internet, because soldiers who are in the field, who are deployed, who are doing shift work can find the time to work on their education when they have free time. And so we're investing in making distance learning more available to soldiers.

QDoes that include providing computers in the field or wherever?

SEC. CALDERA: We are planning the steps that will take us exactly in that direction, and today we do have -- for example, our soldiers in Bosnia and in Kosovo have distance learning opportunities. The commanders go over there with a goal that every soldier will get three credit hours credit during the time that they're there deployed for six to nine months.

Yes?

QIsn't it true that those who enter the Army with a GED have a higher washout rate in Basic Training than high school graduates?

SEC. CALDERA: They historically, as we look at those numbers, have had higher attrition rates. But we think that by --

QHow much -- (inaudible)?

SEC. CALDERA: The difference between 35 percent attrition over a three-year period for high school graduates, and about 50 percent for non-high school graduates.

However, if you segment the non-high school graduates and you look at those kind of quality indicators that we're talking about, I believe that you will find GED holders who will have attrition that is not that different. And indeed, if you look today at, for example, Hispanic GED holders, their attrition rate is about the same as the attrition rate overall for high school degree holders. So it is possible to identify those individuals who can be successful, and that's what the screening criteria is about.

QAnd one follow-up. Didn't the Navy announce a similar program about a year ago? And do you have any information of how --

SEC. CALDERA: What the Navy and the Army both did in the last couple of years is that we went from 95 percent high school graduates to 90 percent high school graduates, so that we would take more GED holders. What is new here is that we're actually going to go out there with these advertisements and find these young people and say we will help you get that GED, we will pay for it, we will encourage you and support you while you're getting it; the day you get it, you can go off to Basic Training in the MOS of your choice and get that opportunity that the Army represents.

QThe additional folks you brought in over the last couple of years with GEDs, you found that same rate of washout?

SEC. CALDERA: That's where the -- that's where those kinds of numbers come from.

QSecretary Caldera, what about college first? Are you basically trying to draw people that are high school graduates to help them through college, and then ask them to join the enlisted ranks? And my -- the second part of this question is, how does this conflict or how does it mix with ROTC and OCS?

SEC. CALDERA: Well, they are, of course, very different programs. ROTC is an officer-commissioning program. It's a commitment to a four-year education and earning an undergraduate degree. But there are young people out there who want to get not a four-year degree but a two-year degree, in criminal justice or in a technical field, and are interested in serving. Today we recruit college graduates to be soldiers and come into the enlisted ranks, and we need great young men and women to serve as soldiers and work their way up to be the sergeants and the sergeant majors. And one of -- many of our sergeants are individuals who have earned their undergraduate degrees. The fact that they are enlisted ranks -- it doesn't mean that just because you have a college degree, you should be in the officer ranks. We need great leaders in the enlisted ranks, as well.

These two programs won't -- I do not believe will cut into each other, because one is clearly a four-year commitment that leads to being an officer; the other one, an opportunity to get a two-year degree.

Today we've got to recruit -- and we are going to recruit -- more in the colleges. Why? Because we have to, and because we know that not every young person who starts college will necessarily complete it successfully in the time that they -- in the time frame they started out with. They discover that maybe they really want to go get some work experience first, some education and training and other life experiences. A quarter of college freshmen do not come back for their sophomore year, so they're going to -- off to get jobs or finding it hard to pay for school. They're going off to earn money so they can go back to school. I think the Army has a lot more to offer them than a dead-end job, trying to raise the money to go back to school, because you can earn (sic) a great skill; you can get the discipline, maturity of serving; you can have the pride of serving your country; and you can continue that education while you serve.

We think we've got a lot to offer college students, and so we're going to start recruiting more of them and offering them also this opportunity to get an education before they enlist.

(Cross talk.)

QHold on. Just a little clarification. You're offering them two years --

SEC. CALDERA: Yes.

Q-- but it's possible that they could -- that's all, no further than -- more than --

SEC. CALDERA: That's right. It's two years, and when they come in the Army, they will still be able to take advantage of our tuition assistance programs and our in-service education programs to continue their education.

QContinue --

SEC. CALDERA: This is the GI Bill with the GI Bill portion up front, instead of at the back end.

QMay I do a follow-up on that question first? Then I want to back into another one. Have you given any --

SERGEANT MAJOR HALL: Can I just make a statement, though, before you do? Having been a sergeant for 31 years, let me tell all those young kids out there, that's a pretty honorable title, and it's one that I'm very proud to have held.

MR.: Absolutely. (Applause.)

Q (Cheers.)

MR.: Absolutely.

QI was very proud to have been a sergeant too, sir. (Laughter.) But -- and that will lead to my second part of my question.

The first part is a follow-up on Bill's question. Has the Army given any thought, instead of a community college, if someone goes into a four-year college and is doing well, to defer for the next two years, before that person has to serve?

And before you answer, secondly, when I was in, I took the GED, along with everybody else who wanted to. It was available to us. There were study guides. You know, what's the big deal? It sounds like desperation here to me.

SEC. CALDERA: First of all, we haven't looked at that, although that is certainly something that we could look at, and we will look at some of those things on a case-by-case basis.

But the commitment is that after two years, they will come into the military. They will still have the ability to continue their education, as so many of our soldiers do, through the in-service educational opportunities. The minimum commitment is two years. They may wish to come in, serve their country, then take advantage of their GI Bills. Frankly, we think that a great many of them will stay in the Army. A lot of soldiers come in and find they like what they're doing and decide that they want to stay.

What is different here is that we're in a very competitive labor market. And we know that there are young people out there who can be successful as soldiers. I think what we have done is today we don't try to recruit them. And if they come and try to enlist, they don't necessarily get a good reception because we may not be able to bring them in under the cap that we currently have. We're going to go out there and communicate a message of opportunity to young people that we believe in them and we will help them earn that GED, help them find the road to the GED and to the opportunity that the Army represents. And I know that that is a significant message because I have talked to community groups throughout the nation over the last six months about this idea. They are very excited about someone will come into their community and say, we believe in your young people, we believe in giving them a second chance, and we want them to have the opportunity to come into the military.

QJust one follow-up. Aren't you then lowering your standards quite a bit? Instead of going for high school graduates, you're now going for --

SEC. CALDERA: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. We are still interested in recruiting high school graduates and college graduates and people with some college. But we are looking at people who have the desire and ability to serve as soldiers.

Whether you graduated from high school or not is a photo flash in your life: On this particular day were you one of those guys sitting in the audience who got the high school diploma. It isn't a measure of whether you have the potential to earn that diploma and get a higher education or to serve successfully as a soldier. We think we can identify those who have that potential regardless of what the reason was that they were not sitting in that auditorium on that day.

(Cross talk.)

QWill this lower the percentage of high school graduates in the Army?

SEC. CALDERA: No, because -- well, the way this is going to work within the context of our OSD policies is that because this is a test group we're really tracking these outside of our 9010 policy criteria. But the fact that they have earned a GED before they go to basic training means that they essentially meet our criteria for what a high school graduate is. We're turning them into our tier-one quality recruits.

STAFF: We have time for two more questions.

QThere are tremendous disparities around the country in the costs of college. What is the cap that the Army will pay under College First for somebody per year?

SEC. CALDERA: (To staff.) Can you -- I don't have that. Do you -- ?

STAFF (?): There is no cap --

QI'm sorry -- (off mike).

SEC. CALDERA: Well, there are two ways that you get into College First. One is if you are in the delayed-entry pool, and two is whether you're in the Reserve components. If you're in the Reserves, you'll get your drill pay. That is what you will get. If you are in the delayed-entry program you'll get $150 a month stipend.

But if you accumulate loans over the course of those two years -- when you come in, we have a loan repayment program that offers up to $65,000 for those who can come in with $65,000 student loans, have earned their bachelor's degree, their undergraduate degree. You can get up to that much, but of course it's tied to how -- your years of enlistment; so less dollars for fewer years of enlistment.

QSecretary Caldera, are you planning on doing any special outreach to the Latino community, special Spanish-language advertising or anything like that?

And second, this AIM test; can a written question actually get to the motivation of a young person?

SEC. CALDERA: The answer to your first question is, yes, we will be doing Spanish-language advertising. Some, but not all, of the markets that are represented as test markets are areas that have a high Latino population, such as San Antonio and Los Angeles. So we will be doing that. And many of those young people represent -- there is a 50 percent high school dropout rate among the Hispanic community, many of them who leave to work -- that represents a community that has the work ethic, drive, discipline, spotless records that we are looking for.

But it is not the only community that is being targeted. There are many young people in African American, Native American, white communities who also fail to complete high school and also deserve to have that second-chance opportunity.

Your second question was?

QThe AIM test?

SEC. CALDERA: The AIM test. We have validated some of these tests; that is, we have been giving this AIM test to our recruits, as they were coming in, and tracking their attrition rate. And so we know that anyone who is in that top 75 percentile is going to have lower attrition. Once you get into that lower quarter percentile of the test, the attrition rates go up dramatically.

GEN. MEYER: Thank you all very much.

And I just can't stress enough we have two great soldiers here that will be glad to answer any questions you may have; plus, we have more subject-matter experts than you will be able to talk to. (Laughter.)

Thank you all very much.

QThank you.

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