WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- The Army has long said that only one in four Americans are fit to enlist. But that pool of American youth from which recruiters draw is improving, according to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.

"I'm very proud of the young generation," Dailey said of those young Americans who are now of age to join the Army. "I've seen an uptick in capability, physical capability ... resiliency. I think we're on the rise with America's youth now."

Dailey spoke during a morning breakfast discussion hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army Tuesday. During the breakfast, Dailey, who now serves as the 15th sergeant major of the Army, discussed current Army topics with retired Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

Dailey told Preston he'd recently visited with Soldiers in advanced individual training, about 200 in all, who were about to embark on their daily physical training regimen. He ran with them after hearing a cautionary note from their training cadre warning him to take it easy on the Soldiers because they were so new.

"Soldiers bend, they don't break," Dailey recalled telling the cadre.

Dailey led the run, he said, at a seven-minute mile pace.

"We extended the run a bit longer," he told Preston. "That's one of the benefits you have as SMA: You don't have to listen to cadre. But every single Soldier in that formation stayed in that formation. They were highly motivated. I'll bet there wasn't a single person in that formation with more than 12 percent body fat."

FAMILY BUSINESS OF SOLDIERING

Dailey also touched on some issues he sees in recruiting young Americans. He said a high percentage of those who join the Army today were likely inspired to join because somebody in their family had served. That makes the Soldier profession highly insular -- joining the Army tends to be a family business, Dailey said. And that has to change.

"We need more of the broader population for the Army," he said. "We think the best representation of the United States of America is to recruit from the entire nation. We've lost some of that ability to do that based on a lot of things: competing efforts, [the] amount of education provided in those areas. But I think we have to continue to invest."

The Army continues today to recruit from the same areas of the country, Dailey said. He wants that to change. He wants to increase recruiting efforts in parts of the country that haven't traditionally provided a lot of Soldiers: the northeast and the northwest, for instance.

Still, last year, Dailey said the Army pulled 14,000 female Soldiers into the Army.

"This last year we did an excellent job of recruiting females," he said. "It was one of our best years in a decade."

COMMITTED TO EDUCATION

The top two reasons for joining the Army, according to Dailey, remain patriotism and educational benefits. He firmly believes that continuing to allow the benefits that entice civilians into enlistment to erode will place the Army's all-volunteer force at risk.

"I think we have [made] some tough choices in the past because of the fiscal constraints we're in," he said. "But we can't sustain any more of those in the future. We have to continue to invest in the Soldiers because that is an investment in the future."

One such benefit cited by Dailey derives from the National Defense Authorization Act, which this year gave the Army the authority to credential Solders who have jobs that translate to skills in the private sector. That allows Soldiers to walk out of the Army with paperwork that will allow them to perform the same job as a civilian that they gained experience on while serving in uniform.

It's something Dailey said he has been developing since he served as the sergeant major for Army Training and Doctrine Command.

"Since 2008, we've dropped unemployment compensation from over $500 million a year, and it landed around $172 million this year from those efforts," he said.

Dailey said that achievement is firmly in line with the commitment the Army makes to the parents of youth who opt to join.

"When we send them home, they are going to be better than we received them," he said. "That's our commitment to the American Soldier."

DISTRACTION TO READINESS

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley's No. 1 priority is readiness, a point he has emphasized repeatedly since being sworn in to the position in August 2015.

But there are distractions to that readiness, Dailey pointed out. As he has heard from both officers and enlisted members, not every Soldier is always available to train when it's time to train. Oftentimes, that comes as a result of having to sustain base operations.

"We've had to put Solders in jobs that were contracted during the war," he said. "That's things like gate guards, emergency services, and to help fill gaps in our morale, welfare, and recreation facilities."

When Soldiers are pulling duty outside their own units, they aren't available to go train with their units. And that hampers unit readiness. Dailey said that, for NCOs and officers alike, it was their No. 1 complaint.

"'Sergeant major, we can get after the task, we just need all of our Soldiers back to do it,'" Dailey recalled them saying. "We need to reduce our non-deployables; we need to get our Soldiers off these other tasks and get them back to their warfighting tasks."

According to Dailey, it's a problem that Installation Management Command is currently committed to resolving.

"We're going to reinvest in some of those things so we can get Soldiers back to doing their traditional jobs," he said.

But Milley's readiness mandate applies not just to regular Army forces, Dailey said. It applies to the total force, Army National Guard and Army Reserve included. And Dailey said the Guard and Reserve are being used now more than they ever have been in the past.

And for them, he said, it's even tougher to maintain readiness, due to their limited training opportunities.

"We have to be cognizant of that, because they are citizen Soldiers, and they are employees out in our great hometowns of America," he said.

"Less than half of the U.S. Army now is active forces ... We constantly rely on [Reserve forces] to fill out the gaps and seams we have across 140 countries ... and the constant demand for brigades."

This year, Dailey said, the Army is doubling the capacity at combat training centers to ensure more training opportunities and improved readiness for Reserve component forces.