SALT LAKE CITY — An overwhelming majority of Utah's young adults ages 17-24 are ineligible for military service because they are overweight, have a criminal history or can't pass the test, according to a new report.
The Council for America hosted a panel discussion Tuesday at the state Capitol to detail why so many young adults in the state are not "citizen ready," or readily equipped to take on the challenges of adult life.
A citizen readiness index shows Utah is among the more than three-fourths of states in the country that earned a C grade or worse based on the number of young adults who missed the mark.
"The ambivalence we sometimes see out there needs to change," said Utah Gov. Gary Hebert, who gave closing remarks at the event.
Council for America is made up of 9,000 members that include law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business leaders, pastors and prominent coaches and athletes.
Their report shows:
• About 72 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds in Utah cannot qualify for military service due to problems with obesity, education, drug abuse or crime — on par with national numbers
• Among 16- to 24-year-olds in Utah, 11 percent are not employed and not in school
• Twelve out of every 100 17- to 24-year-olds in Utah have been arrested
The council, along with panelists, emphasized the need to strengthen families and provide young parents with the tools and support they need to help their child grow into a productive and happy member of society. They also pointed to the need to provide quality, early childhood education at the outset so children are on a path toward learning.
"Families make a difference," said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. "You change one of these children you change generations."
The panel and council pushed for continued funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, which provides home-based services for at-risk parents.
In 2015, federal grants fueled 4,900 home visits to more than 550 Utah families in 10 counties.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said his officers see the heartbreaking circumstances of children caught up in abuse, neglect or domestic violence among their parents on a daily basis.
He recalled as one young boy was taken to a shelter for temporary housing, the single-most worrisome thing to the child was not if there were food or toys available, but if the doors had locks.
"He said, 'I don't want to get dead tonight,'" Brown recounted.
Retired Brigadier General Larry V. Lunt said young adults are increasingly becoming ineligible for military service because they don't meet basic standards.
"It's unbelievable to me that we have that percentage of young people who can't get into the military because they lack" basic education skills, Lunt said.
"The military has always been the great (socio-economic) equalizer," he said, turning a blind eye to a young adult's status in life.
"The drill sergeant doesn't care how much your dad makes," he said.
The panelists stressed that more needs to be done with early childhood education to prepare children for success in school.
Brown said society, either way, will help at-risk children get a footing in their early years or spend dollars years down the road to cope with the consequences of a young adult who is unprepared and ill-equipped for daily life.