Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Florida News

North Central FL Regional Planning Council: Army Lt. Col. Stresses the Importance of Education.
77% of high school students can't make the grade.

Lt. Col. Stephen Grabski, U.S. Army

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The keynote speaker at the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council last night was army veteran and West Point graduate Lt. Col. Stephen J. Grabski, who introduced himself to North Central Florida's leaders this way, "You are looking at someone who ten days out of high school signed a 12 year contract with the Army, 4 years at West Point and then eight years to serve in the military." Twenty two years later, Lt. Col. Grabski was still serving as he enlightened North Central Florida's leaders about the challenges of recruitment and the importance of education in the Army and rural Florida.

77% of high school students can't make the grade

Links of interest:
 • Absence of America’s Upper Classes From the Military
 • Youths in Rural U.S. Are Drawn To Military
 • Iraq war hits rural U.S. Hard
 • Rural America Supplies More Recruits to the Military

Lt. Col. Grabski got straight to the point, "As we look at the disproportionate number of people serving from the rural communities it is very clear we are having a challenge getting the appropriate number of young men and women from urban areas to join our military and why is that?"

Lt. Col. Grabski explained that across the nation "70% of our kids finish high school. Then when you start taking a look at criminal records; things like ADHD; ADD; obesity and things of this nature, what you are going to find is that about only 23% of our kids are eligible to join the military... This means that 77% of our high school age young men and women can't put on the uniform because they don't meet the eligibility criteria."

Rural Florida education is challenged and Lt. Col. Grabski explained some of the efforts that the military and recruiters are making to make sure rural Florida's children are staying in school, showing up for tests, and getting their fair chance to serve their country.

He said that recruiters regularly visit schools, attend athletic events, and will even drive the students to tests.

In bygone times the Army would take high school dropouts, those with criminal records, and those looking to escape a not so stellar past.

"Not the jail house for everybody looking to put on a uniform"

Lt. Col. Grabski explained the changing times and said that today's Army is "not the MP outfit, the jail house for everybody looking to put on a uniform. We are looking for the A students. We're looking for the kids who are good citizens."

Gainesville City Commissioner Randy Wells:
I appreciate your being here and these Planning Council events. It is the one opportunity that we from various communities have a chance to interact with other folks from the region and I appreciate that opportunity and the opportunity to hear speakers that I wouldn't ordinarily be able to hear.

"This community in northern Florida is phenomenally connected to the military. On an annual basis the counties in here represent about 300 of your sons and daughters that make a choice to put on a uniform," he said.

Lt. Col. Grabski concluded, "Our role here is very simple. We just want to say thanks. We do what we do because you as a group of leaders are watching our six o'clock." (watching your six: an idiomatic expression which generally means watching your back)


After the meeting the Observer sat down for a few minutes of one on one with Lt. Col. Grabski.

The Observer:  Do you know how many members of congress have children in the military?

Lt. Col. Grabski:  I don’t know off the top of my head, but I can find out. The numbers are going down and this is one of the concerns. The representation of the military across the legislative branch of government continues to decline. Intentionally, it's not a statistic I keep available because I try to draw a line between what’s going on in congress and what we are trying to do. It keeps my life easier.

Observer:  This evening you addressed a group of representatives of the rural counties of North Central Florida. Can you tell me the percent of the military that is represented by rural counties?

Lt. Col. Grabski:  I believe it is about 50%.

Observer:  Expanding on what you said earlier does the economy and the quality of rural education play a part in recruitment?

Lt. Col. Grabski:  I can speak to it from my experience in Jacksonville. There are schools in Jacksonville that have 40 to 50% graduation rates. I can’t bring anybody in the military that hasn’t finished high school.

Observer:  So you have to have a high school diploma or a GED?

Lt. Col. Grabski:  You have to have a high school diploma. If you have a GED you have to show that you can finish a year of college.

Observer:  So you guys recognize the difference between a diploma and a GED?

Lt. Col. Grabski:  Yes. Very, very clearly. It is distinctly different and we will separate the two out. Right now if you just have a GED my answer to you is, “Sorry, I can’t help you. But if you can have a GED plus some other education, such as a year of trade school or at least a year of college, then we can sit down and talk."

Observer:  Do you have more applicants than there are slots?

Lt. Col. Grabski:  Yes. For about every 100 kids that I run through the processing station for physicals and stuff like that, about 85% of kids that make it that far will end up in.

Observer:  What are the limiting factors that would make it so a kid would never make it to the point of processing?

Lt. Col. Grapski:  When I walk into a high school roughly 25% of the kids meet the qualification criteria. My elevator speech is -- If you haven’t finished high school; you’ve been in the back seat of a police car, or you are on any long term meds -- sorry.

Observer:  Finally, are you in favor of the draft?

Lt. Col. Grabski:  No, but here is what I am in favor of and you hit it on the head earlier. I think everybody should serve their country.

Observer:  That sounds good to me. Thank you for sitting down with me.

Lt. Col Grabski:  You're welcome. It was my pleasure. 

Comments  (to add a comment go here)  

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.