Sen. Mike Fair, acting on behalf of Sens. Larry Grooms and Lee Bright, took a step last week that will weaken our military if it isn’t reversed. He placed a minority report on H.3435, the amendment to South Carolina’s Comprehensive Health Education Act. H.3435 would require school districts to implement the existing law and to use medically accurate health information. The Senate Education Committee approved it 9-2, but Sen. Fair’s minority report hurls the bill to the bottom of the agenda for this year’s legislative session. We must all ask these three senators to immediately end their blocking strategy, so the Senate can vote on H.3435 before Thursday.
How does a bill dealing with health education impact our nation’s military readiness? Department of Defense regulations prohibit enlistment in our armed forces by anyone who is obese or who has certain sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Already, only 15 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are eligible to enlist. South Carolina is consistently high in obesity and HIV/AIDS, and youth have the highest incidence of new HIV infections.
Refusing to provide comprehensive health education further reduces the qualified recruit pool, which weakens our military. Take one troubling example: None of 110 S.C. Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students in a pilot program had any idea of the connection between their sexual behavior and military service.
Military service is an effective way to pull oneself up out of poverty, and with our high poverty rate, it’s irresponsible to risk shattering the dreams of diligent youth, who are doing everything we say we want them to do: They are studying hard, learning leadership skills and practicing good manners. When these hardworking youth head to enlist, the door is slammed in their faces if they are HIV-positive. Isn’t it more sensible to arm them with information before they become infected?
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H.3435 will make sure that the schools teach the medically accurate information that they’re already supposed to be teaching, putting South Carolina in a position to lead the nation in addressing the connection between health education and the future of our armed forces.