The Washington Times
September 23, 2003

Editorial: Making everyone count in the military

The Washington Times
September 22, 2003
by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

It is has been more than a week since the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and for most people, the memory of that fateful day is still strong. The war on terror continues in Iraq, headed by thousands of American servicemen and women. Regrettably, we often are reminded that the scourge of international terrorism, although in retreat, is still alive and well in many parts of the world. September 11 was a tragic reminder that there are people in the world who will go to any lengths to kill us. Once again, America's military is called upon to be the first line of defense for the country.

It may surprise many Americans to learn that until October 1998 thousands of educated, patriotic, civic-minded young men and women were systematically excluded from serving their country in the United States military. Every enlistee enters into one of three Tiers in the Armed Forces. Tier I is the category for the majority of new recruits and Tiers II and III cover enlistees who are considered to possess fewer skills and abilities.

Homeschool graduates effectively were denied access to military service because they were not allowed to enlist in the Tier I category, but were relegated to compete for a limited number of positions in Tier II. Tier I recruits are able to advance in the military as quickly as their abilities allow. Recruits beginning in Tier II, however, often will be excluded from upward progression.

It was unconscionable that the military would handicap homeschool students simply because they did not attend an institutional school. In response, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), led by Senior Counsel Chris Klicka, lobbied Congress for redress. The late Sen. Paul Coverdell, Georgia Republican and Rep. Representative John Hostettler, Indiana Republican, were able to amend the Defense Reauthorization Act, which established a five-year pilot program beginning in October 1998. The program allowed homeschoolers to compete on a level playing field when enlisting for military service.

Based on the original schedule, the five-year program is nearing expiration. Faced with the possibility of returning to the discriminatory practices of the past, HSLDA contacted the Pentagon seeking a continuation of the program. Curtis L. Gilroy, director of military personnel policy, decided to extend the program for one year, so the enlistment window for homeschoolers will remain open until Sept. 30, 2004, while the success of the pilot program is evaluated.

HSLDA maintains that homeschoolers serve with distinction in the military. There are homeschool parents and homeschool graduates throughout the military that are a credit to their units, their uniform and their country. Of particular note is the presentation of the Bronze Star with Valor to homeschool graduate Army Sgt. Simon Kiser. Sgt. Kiser, of Fredericksburg, Va., defended many fellow servicemen and Iraqi civilians during operations in the center of Iraq. He is an example of a homeschooler who has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Moreover, while we are in a state of war, the military should be using every means available to attract high quality personnel. The homeschool community consistently scores well above the national average on standardized tests and is more actively involved with their communities than the average public school student. Homeschool graduates also come from families that have focused on the most essential attribute for a soldier, sailor or airman - good character. Military recruiters should have the tools to seek these young men and women who love their country.

The September 11 terrorist attacks have motivated many citizens to 'serve something greater than themselves,' and this trend can be observed in the increased number of applications for military service. Homeschoolers desire to serve their country, and it is difficult to think of a valid reason why the military would erroneously target homeschoolers for exclusion.

HSLDA is confident that the military leadership will come to the same conclusion when they evaluate the pilot program and find that the overwhelming majority of homeschool graduates serve with distinction.

Michael Smith is the President of the Home School Legal Defense Association

For more information on this subject and a list of hundreds of homeschoolers serving in Iraq please visit our website www.hslda.org.