Defense Secretary Ash Carter today thanked military children for their sacrifices and championed a family-focused approach to educational pathways for them and their service member parents.
Speaking on the final day of this year’s Military Child Education Coalition seminar here, Carter said that as a former university professor, he realizes the importance of education as it relates to a richer quality of life, a vibrant democracy, and from his current perspective as defense secretary, to national security and building the future force.
“It’s true that a capable, dynamic force of the future will depend on maintaining an unmatched operational edge and unmatched capabilities,” the secretary said.
But, he said, the nation requires more than advanced weapons platforms to keep people safe.
“People keep people safe,” Carter said. “It’s our men and women in uniform and their families, their conviction, their courage, their sacrifice … it’s that that makes ours the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”
DoD Must Adapt, Compete for Talent
To maintain its advantage, the U.S. military must remain an attractive, inviting, supportive place for those who serve, and for families of all kinds, the defense secretary said.
“The world’s changing, the labor market is changing,” he said. “Younger generations and young families want flexibility and choice in their career paths.”
Carter compared today’s workforce evolution to a “jungle gym,” in which people advance by moving around and benefitting from new experiences rather than the traditional style of linear ascent.
Given the abundance of career path choices, the secretary said, the Defense Department must not take for granted that military children are twice as likely to become service members as other children or that service members are more inclined to recommend uniformed service to their children.
This changing workforce and economy, Carter explained, means that the need to compete for talent will persist.
“There’s tremendous value of families upholding a tradition of service that is passed from generation to generation,” Carter said. “There’s no substitute for the unique, potent mix of passion and mentorship that comes from a military mom, dad, [grandparent], or all of them.”
New Pathways to Success
According to Carter, maternity and paternity leave expansion, creating on- and off-ramps between active duty and the National Guard and reserve for education, and enhancing Department of Defense Education Activities schools are among the myriad ways DoD will ensure service remains a worthy endeavor.
“Our personnel don’t have to derail their careers to get an advanced degree or to have a family,” the secretary said.
Carter said the department will overhaul the way it places personnel to offer more options and potentially fewer moves, which he said translates to “fewer first days as the new kid in school.”
And for parents, Carter said he wants to ensure serving in uniform doesn’t equate to a tradeoff in wearing a cap and gown.
“The 9/11 GI Bill has helped over 1.3 million Americans pay for college, and those benefits are transferable to family members,” he said.
More than 74,000 children attend DoDEA schools, which boast quality teachers, high graduation rates and above-average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, Carter said.
To build on that success, Carter said that this coming school year, DoDEA schools will adopt college- and career-ready standards across the board.
“Our military kids can hit the ground running in college and be first in line for 21st century jobs,” he said.
Targeted Resources Maximize Success
But since more than 90 percent of military children attend local public schools, Carter stressed the importance of working with groups such as the Military Child Education Coalition to push progress in that realm.
To that end, the DoD is creating a military dependent student identifier, which allows parents, educators and schools to track performance, funnel resources and make smart policy decisions on behalf of military children over the span of their educational careers.
“If we know how particular groups of kids are performing, we can better target resources to maximize their success,” Carter said.
Other creative outreach efforts include the competitive educational partnership grant program, in which funds go toward local schools with 15 percent or greater military child enrollment.
“Those funds recently paid for a [science, technology and engineering and mathematics] partnership that helped more than 10,000 high school students earn AP exam scores that qualified them for college credit,” the secretary said. “That’s an incredible return on investment.”
This year’s round of educational partnership grant program funding totals $52 million, the secretary said.
For many of today’s younger service members, “the entire time they’ve been in school -- during elementary school spelling bees, junior high school prep rallies, and senior proms -- America has been at war,” Carter said.
Children Also Serve
The secretary also saluted the spunk of today’s military children.
“Regardless of the tumultuous reality they’ve lived in, military children continue to muster the same grit and courage their parents devote to defending our country,” the secretary said.
Carter recounted the story of a high school girl, who as the daughter of a Coast Guardsman, has moved six times in her life. The secretary said she described moving as both the “best and the most challenging thing about being a kid.”
But, Carter said, she also asserted “kids serve, too,” and many children are proud to own their service.
“They’re determined, creative, wise beyond their years and they seize their story, their unique experiences as an opportunity,” he said.
Carter commended the grit and wisdom that some two million military children of active duty, Guard and reserve service members display.
“Our mission is to have their back, to cheer them on, to make sure their stories are success stories,” Carter said, “because the brave men and women who defend our freedoms and risk their lives all over the world deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing their families are being taken care of back home.”
The Military Child Education Coalition ensures quality educational opportunities for military children affected by mobility, family separation, and transition. The 501(c)(3) non-profit, worldwide organization performs research, develops resources, conducts professional institutes and conferences, and develops and publishes resources for all constituencies.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)