This past weekend, I attended some of the activities in connection with the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. Listening to the speeches about leadership, service, and education reminded me of the opportunities available in the military for every young American . . . especially for minorities without the resources to build a foundation for a successful future.
When I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the Air Force. After serving a one-year remote tour at Fort Yukon, Alaska, I received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. This began a journey that would take this carpenter's son through the State House in Austin, Texas; the White House in D.C.; and ultimately the halls of the Justice Department. None of this would have been possible if I had not joined the military.
Our country currently faces unsustainable deficits and our federal leaders have to make difficult budget cuts in the near future, including to our military. Obviously, we must eliminate waste and spending for outdated technologies and strategies. However, speaking as someone who worked in the White House during the September 11th attacks, I know the dangers that confront the United States. If Americans are to enjoy our cherished freedoms, then we must continue to have the strongest military in the world.
Several of this weekend's speakers spoke of the importance of a military force that is representative of the American population. It appears that may become more difficult to sustain. Less than 23% of the American population, age 17-24, is qualified to serve in the Army by virtue of lack of education, inability to satisfy the physical fitness requirements, or some type of background issue or problem. The challenge is more acute with respect to Hispanic youth.
Demographers agree that Hispanics represent the fastest growing minority group, and that by 2050 we will constitute 29 percent of the American population. However, there are still a significant number of Hispanics dropping out of high school. They are uneducated and unemployable. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether the Army can sustain its goal of a representative military force.
Today, 100 percent of Americans enjoy freedom because of the sacrifices of 1 percent of the American population in uniform. These men and women are special. They volunteer to stand in harm's way and to give their life if necessary. It is a commitment not everyone is able or willing to make. The special 1 percent of Americans who can, are entitled to our gratitude, and those who are soldiers rightly deserve to be called Army Strong.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former U.S. Attorney General and White House Counsel in the George W. Bush Administration. Presently he is the Dean and Doyle Rogers Distinguished Professor of Law at Belmont University College of Law.