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5-minute read0:002:23ADMatthew Weiss always thought of himself as patriotic during his boyhood in Tenafly, New Jersey.His bar mitzvah even featured what he deftly describes as a “presidential theme” and his own “roaring 15-minute speech.”Now Weiss wants to save the American military. He’s 25, a newly minted second lieutenant in the U.S. Marines. Rescuing the military he just joined is not the path young officers usually follow. And that's what makes Matthew Weiss so unusual....
Matthew Weiss always thought of himself as patriotic during his boyhood in Tenafly, New Jersey.
His bar mitzvah even featured what he deftly describes as a “presidential theme” and his own “roaring 15-minute speech.”
Now Weiss wants to save the American military. He’s 25, a newly minted second lieutenant in the U.S. Marines. Rescuing the military he just joined is not the path young officers usually follow. And that's what makes Matthew Weiss so unusual.
Weiss, who chucked his six-figure salary and a budding career with a defense contractor after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, enlisted in the Marines just two years ago. Holed up in a barracks on weekends, with plenty of spare time and a laptop during his nearly year-long training, Weiss has now written a book, distributed by a small California publisher, suggesting how the Pentagon can fix the recruiting problems with his own Generation Z.
“I understand my generation,” he said, speaking by phone with NorthJersey.com from a base in Australia where his Marine unit is deployed until the end of the year. “I was just recruited. I felt compelled that this was the time to write.”
Most books about reforming the military are produced by retired generals or other high-ranking officers at the end of their careers. Ulysses S. Grant set the standard with his best-selling, two-volume autobiography published after his death in 1885. Then came Dwight Eisenhower’s memoirs after World War II. And Norman Schwarzkopf’s in the 1990s. And plenty of others in between to stock many a bookshelf.
As a lowly second lieutenant who had just completed the Marines’ grueling Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, Weiss knew well that he was bucking that trend. His new book, “We Don’t Want You, Uncle Sam: Examining The Military Recruiting Crisis with Generation Z,” is not so much a personal memoir as a strident message for the Pentagon and, indeed, Congress and the president as America’s commander in chief. Or as Weiss notes in the book’s introduction: “The current status of military recruiting in the United States is terrifyingly grim.”
Weiss is not exaggerating. To maintain its current level of 1.3 million active duty members across its six service branches, the Pentagon needs to bring in roughly 150,000 new recruits each year. So far this year, the Marines and the Space Force seem to be on track. But the Army and Air Force are each facing gaps this year of 10,000 recruits while the Navy may fall short by as many as 6,000 new members.
As a result the Pentagon announced that it was facing its worst recruiting crisis since the waning days of the Vietnam War, more than half-a-century ago.
Reasons for the downturn vary. Some defense analysts point to the COVID-19 pandemic, which set back campus recruiting and shuttered many storefront recruiting stations for portions of two years. Other problems range from the military’s image problems, brought on by intense criticism from conservatives that the military was “too woke” and from liberals that America is fighting too many wars and attracts too many right-wingers.
Yet another problem is Generation Z itself. A variety of military experts estimate that between 24% and a whopping 44% of Generation Z — those between 16 and 24 years old — can’t even meet basic standards of enlistment. The problems range from too many prospective recruits failing physical fitness tests because they are obese to not graduating from high school and having been arrested for drug use. Yet another unique problem is that too many Generation Z-ers have tattoos that cannot be hidden by a uniform.
Weiss does not discount how these problems have taken a toll on recruiting. But his analysis probes even deeper into what he perceives as Generation Z’s atypical difficulties.
“The three key gaps are knowledge, trust and identity,” he said, adding that he feels “the military is suffering from a perception issue” with the very generation it is trying to recruit.
With only 1% of America’s population serving, Gen Z knows fewer veterans, Weiss said.
“Knowing what life is like in the military is rare,” he said.
“For trust, Z grew up with iPhones in hand and can sniff out marketing or incorrect information in a second,” Weiss noted. “We demand transparency from our institutions and Z has a lack of trust for many of them.”
Finally, says Weiss, “For identity, Z struggles to picture themselves in uniform. Does a life in the military actually appeal to their individual desires? They struggle to identify it.”
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It’s rare to see a young officer step out like this while still on active duty – or, to underscore how uncommon Weiss' book is, just starting his military career.
As the Pentagon’s overall recruiting woes surfaced, Weiss noticed that only generals and admirals were speaking about the problem on TV.
Weiss thought: Why shouldn’t he speak up, too?
“I wanted to be a voice for my generation,” he said in the telephone interview from Australia, where he is serving as an intelligence officer with a unit deployed there from the California-based First Marine Division. “I didn’t want only a general or an admiral giving voice. I wanted someone from Gen Z talking.”
What’s more, Weiss noted: “I was just recruited. I understand much better my generation.”
Weiss, however, calls himself “an atypical recruit.” His grandfather, Leonard Weiss, joined the Marines at 17 and served as a tail gunner aboard a Dauntless dive bomber on 70 missions in the Pacific Theater during World War II. But otherwise, he does not come from a family with a long line of military veterans. His father, Peter, is a commercial real estate developer; his mother, Louise, a stay-at-home mom who raised four children.
In high school, Weiss thought of applying to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, or another service academy. But he took a much more accepted route for someone raised in the high-powered, success-focused atmosphere of Tenafly where many students are pushed to gain high-salaried civilian jobs. He went to an Ivy League college — the University of Pennsylvania.
Then, armed with a coveted masters degree in business administration — an MBA — he took a high-salaried corporate job.
But something was lacking. Yes, the big salary was nice. And his future seemed solid. But Weiss wanted something more. So he signed up with the Marines — enlisting at a recruiting office in downtown Philadelphia.
Soon he began to wonder why more members of his generation were not looking to the military as a career.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic and its own problems for recruiting.
“COVID shook the core of the generation,” Weiss said in the interview. “It showed us the world doesn’t always operate as we thought and there is real danger out there. It made us more isolated, more pragmatic, and more depressed.”
Meanwhile, Weiss noticed that “the military retreated from society even more, which pushed us into the worst recruiting crisis we’ve ever had.”
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To enhance recruiting, especially for Generation Z-ers, Weiss' book offers several forward-thinking proposals.
He suggests, for example, turning to “non-traditional outlets like influencers to reach Zoomers.” He also thinks the Pentagon should take the next step of instituting such reforms as a much wider college degree program for service members, an easing of what Weiss calls “ridiculous” medical standards that block some recruits who take some prescription drugs for chronic problems and an offer of performance bonuses to some service members.
In addition, he recommends more lenient leave policies and more reliance on remote work. And starting long before teenagers reach recruiting age, Weiss calls for schools to teach “real warrior capability in gym class” that would consist of “self-defense courses and basic boxing, wrestling, and defense techniques.” This could also include what Weiss calls “mental resilience training” that focuses on “accomplishing hard things in nature outdoors” —all in an effort to build a “stronger mindset” for Gen Z-ers.
Can it work?
What makes Weiss’ book provocative — perhaps even courageous — is that it has the potential to provoke a conversation in a military that is often handcuffed to age-old traditions that may have worked well in another century but not now.
Ultimately, however, the change in the military won’t just come from the Pentagon.
“In the end,” Weiss writes, “it is up to the young Americans themselves who comprise generation Z, to make a decision about serving in the military.”
Weiss made that decision.
Many of his friends from the prestigious Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania now work on Wall Street and command salaries far above his.
But the Marines, he said, offers him the “greatest leadership factory.”
“My friends are doing great,” Weiss said. “But in terms of leadership, this is the best place.”
Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network, as well as the author of three critically acclaimed non-fiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in the Northeast, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: [email protected]
Mandarin Chinese language learning has been growing in the United States, especially among young people with immersion programs for K-12 students increasing an average of 16% a year for the last decade.In Tenafly, the Bergen Chinese School, which has been teaching children and adults to read, write and speak Mandarin since 1972, will c...
Mandarin Chinese language learning has been growing in the United States, especially among young people with immersion programs for K-12 students increasing an average of 16% a year for the last decade.
In Tenafly, the Bergen Chinese School, which has been teaching children and adults to read, write and speak Mandarin since 1972, will contribute to that growth this weekend with the opening of the school's Taiwan Center for Mandarin Learning.
Mandarin is a form of Chinese that is the official language of mainland China and Taiwan. Interest in Mandarin has surged along with the growth in the Asian-American population in the U.S. and China's rise as a global economic superpower.
The center, which is actually a program that is a more immersive version of the school's current adult classes, will host a grand opening on Sunday at Tenafly High School at 3 p.m. That's where the Bergen Chinese School has operated since 2018 after previously being based in Hackensack.
Raymond Chung, the principal of the Bergen Chinese School, said while currently the school offers classes where adults learn Mandarin through conversation, the new center will offer something more extensive.
"Now, we're offering a more structured program for adults over 18," Chung said. "With the Taiwan Center, instead of just coming together for conversation, there's also more emphasis on the technical aspects of the language like reading and writing."
He said the adult conversation classes, which are usually an hour are now three hours in this new center/program. Classes had officially started in the center on March 5 and will run until June 11, meeting every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in three sessions. The center will then resume in the fall when the high school is open for the school year.
The new center was made possible by a grant from the Overseas Community Affairs Council of the Republic of China, the formal name of Taiwan. There are 66 of these centers in the U.S. and Europe with more than 50 of them in the U.S. including
5 five in New Jersey.
Chung said the center is offering learning for those want to be more proficient in the language to communicate with loved ones who speak only Mandarin.
New Jersey has one of the largest Chinese-American populations in the country, with 168,000 residents of Chinese descent, according to U.S. Census figures. Overall, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state, accounting for 10% of New Jersey's 9 million-plus population, according to 2020 census.
Chung said the grand opening will feature a traditional fan dance and the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the new center. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will include representatives from the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office and Tenafly Mayor Mark Zinna.
While the new program, which has a tuition of $400 and additional costs for registration and materials, has already begun, people can still attend by applying at the school's website at bergenchineseschool.org.
Ricardo Kaulessar is a culture reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Region How We Live team. For unlimited access to the most important news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: [email protected]
Tenafly coach Michael Carasquilla calls it the Big North “black and blue” Division, but in more common parlance, it’s the Big North National Division and on Thursday night, it lived up to its moniker as the two sides played to a 1-1 tie.Carasquilla’s squad traveled to Hillsdale to take on Pascack Valley and while the Tigers had the better chances and possessed more in the first half, neither they nor Pascack Valley could get on the board.Playing with one striker up top in the first half, the Tigers contr...
Tenafly coach Michael Carasquilla calls it the Big North “black and blue” Division, but in more common parlance, it’s the Big North National Division and on Thursday night, it lived up to its moniker as the two sides played to a 1-1 tie.
Carasquilla’s squad traveled to Hillsdale to take on Pascack Valley and while the Tigers had the better chances and possessed more in the first half, neither they nor Pascack Valley could get on the board.
Playing with one striker up top in the first half, the Tigers controlled possession, showed an ability to play multiple formations, an ability to play the ball on the ground with ease and had the more plentiful and often higher quality looks.
Tenafly finally broke through with 31:35 left in the game on a goal off an indirect kick inside the box. The ball originally caromed off the post, at which point it hit off a PV defender who then passed it back to the goalie and he picked it up.
That set up the indirect kick, and after a pass inside the box, Tenafly was able to finally break through after knocking on the door for much of the game up to that point.
And even though it happened in an instant, it was something Carasquilla’s squad was prepared for.
“It’s something that we train. We always tell them think on your toes and know what the play is and just go with it,” he said. “I trust them to make the right decision, and thankfully we did.”
And while the Panthers got caught potentially off guard in that moment, they quickly regrouped and showed the requisite mettle to not let that situation rattle them.
PV got a goal of its own just over a minute later when Robert Wasserman played a ball on the ground for Steven Gifford, who sent the ball in the bottom left corner past an outstretched Tenafly keeper to knot the game at 1-1 with exactly 30 minutes left.
It was an impressive response from a young Panther squad that graduated much of its core that won a section title in 2021 and made the section final last year.
“It was important because we lost a couple of pieces from last year, so it was nice to see the boys actually continue to work at it,” Panthers coach Luciano Confrancesco said. “Historically, when we’ve gone down, it’s been hard to climb back out of it, but the boys answered the call.”
After that, both teams had several chances, both in the run of play and on set pieces, but neither could bang anything home.
But it wasn’t all for naught. Especially on Tenafly’s end, the second half allowed Carasquilla to experiment with different formations and personnel on the field as well as different styles depending on what PV was giving them.
But most often, the Tigers played the ball on the ground and focused on passing to feet and on possession, not afraid to take shots when in close.
Pascack Valley, by contrast, was happy to play the ball over the top offensively, while also possessing when needed. The Panthers played well defensively thanks in part to Bennett Scalia’s efforts between the pipes, especially late in the game.
“We had opportunities on both ends but it could’ve been anyone’s game,” Carasquilla said. “We’re okay with the tie.”
The tie furthers Tenafly’s place atop the league standings while Pascack Valley sits in third behind the Tigers and Old Tappan.
But Cofrancesco’s PV squad has been in big games and made deep runs before, so they’re channelling that experience going forward.
“No one wants to peak in August, right? We want to hit our stride with the county and state tournament but it starts with good results in league play and a 1-1 draw isn’t a bad result for us against a good league opponent.”
Jake Aferiat can be reached at
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Alonso Escalante felt vindicated.The new Tenafly football coach and former NFL assistant came back to the high school level and back home to Bergen County with the hope of making a positive impact on athletes both on and off the field.Escalante wanted to apply what he learned in six cities and eight years in pro football to a prep team about 14 miles from his native Glen Rock.And while it's still too early to write out the depth chart in pen, Escalante has already seen positive steps from the Tigers (3-6) ...
Alonso Escalante felt vindicated.
The new Tenafly football coach and former NFL assistant came back to the high school level and back home to Bergen County with the hope of making a positive impact on athletes both on and off the field.
Escalante wanted to apply what he learned in six cities and eight years in pro football to a prep team about 14 miles from his native Glen Rock.
And while it's still too early to write out the depth chart in pen, Escalante has already seen positive steps from the Tigers (3-6) this summer.
There's a spike in participation, not from a big freshman class but from players convincing more friends to join the team. One player asked if it was possible to Zoom into a team meeting from a vacation seven time zones away.
"The kids are obviously very excited about what we're doing here," Escalante said. "That was a very good indication that we're on the right track."
Tenafly is looking to get back on track in the Super Football Conference. The Tigers turned in back-to-back winning seasons in the Ivy Division for struggling programs (in 2020 and 2021), but never found their mojo last year after a promotion to the American Red.
Escalante comes to Tenafly as a football nomad after stops with the Raiders, Bucs, Giants, Cardinals, Browns and Panthers. He worked at DePaul last season under Nick Campanile.
"When I was first hired, I had an interest meeting with the team and the parents," Escalante said. "I went down the line of an acronym I use called HEART. It stands for humble, effort, attitude, reliable and tough. Those five things are going to carry our football program."
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Tenafly has claimed four sectional titles in a little over a century. All four came before the modern playoff system was created in 1974.
The program's best season over the last decade came in 2020 when the Tigers won all eight games in the COVID-shortened season.
Tenafly has gone 14 years since making the state playoffs and went winless in league play last season.
One of Escalante's goals is to get players to be the best students of the game and understand how to play smart situational football. He's put an emphasis on classroom time in OTAs and points out that NFL players spend more hours there than on the practice field.
Escalante will pull up a college or NFL film from his past to provide a visual model for what Tenafly is installing.
"Teaching is teaching. Wherever you are," Escalante said. "What I've said to our players and coaches is we're going to install a high school scheme with an NFL presentation. What we're doing schematically is not very far off from a lot of the things we were doing in the NFL."
Tenafly has a chance to improve its record with a roster that's climbed from 35 to 46 players and a hybrid schedule with winnable crossover games.
Everyone is competing for jobs at the moment. But Escalante pointed to a number of seniors who are bound for big seasons, including defensive end Cole Mogensen, tight end/outside linebacker Asher Zorn and running back Jalen Benitez.
"The kids have been so good with understanding that we're going to put players in a position to help the team," Escalante said. "We've really hammered in on that."
Sept. 1: vs. Highland Park
Sept. 8: at Mahwah
Sept. 23: at Glen Ridge
Sept. 29: vs. Ridgefield Park
Oct. 6: at Dickinson
Oct. 13: Newark Collegiate
Thanksgiving: vs. Dumont
TENAFLY — Every Wednesday since 1976, a group of swimmers has gathered in a pool here to make the burdens of multiple sclerosis a little lighter.For Bergenfield's Christine Kochell, the weekly trip offers a respite from the neurological disease that has numbed her "from her legs down."“My l...
TENAFLY — Every Wednesday since 1976, a group of swimmers has gathered in a pool here to make the burdens of multiple sclerosis a little lighter.
For Bergenfield's Christine Kochell, the weekly trip offers a respite from the neurological disease that has numbed her "from her legs down."
“My legs are weak, and I have to use a walker or wheelchair for the distance,” Kochell said Wednesday. “Coming here allows me to feel human. I can go in the water and use my legs like I used to use my legs. It just gives you that feeling of normalcy that I can't get on dry land. I can move my legs like you would think nothing was wrong with me."
She’s been coming to the Kaplen Jewish Community Center on the Palisades for that feeling for seven years.
The Bergen County chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women has been hosting the swimming program since local member Ruth Cowan started it 47 years ago. It's the only free, volunteer-run "swim-in" for MS patients in the country, according to the council.
Anyone with MS can attend the hourlong sessions, as long as they have the approval of a doctor and the program’s physical therapist, Ava Silverstein.
Silverstein, who volunteers her time, leads attendees through group activities and spends about 15 minutes with each swimmer giving them personalized exercise routines.
“When they're in the water they can move more freely than they can walking around outside of the pool,” Silverstein said.
MS is the “most common disabling neurological disease of young adults," with symptoms that generally begin appearing between the ages of 20 and 40, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The condition affects the central nervous system and causes a range of symptoms, from muscle weakness to spasticity to pain and depression. There is no cure, though treatments are available to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
Aquatic therapy helps by providing a low-impact setting where people can strengthen muscles and increase their range of motion, balance and coordination, according to the National MS Society.
Other benefits are more emotional and spiritual. On Wednesday, laughter and conversation echoed around the 25-meter indoor pool, which was rigged with a large plastic ladder and a lift to help people with limited mobility get in and out of the water.
“This is an outing — coming to the program," Silverstein said. "They want to socialize and be around other people, view other MS clients and share the same concerns and information."
Stress, anxiety and depression are common among people with MS. But at least for one afternoon a week, the swimmers can smile.
Barbara Lightbody of Cresskill has been volunteering with the program for over 20 years.
“I had just retired from my computer programming job and I saw an article in the local paper that said they needed swimming volunteers. I said I have to go try this, and 20 years later it's still just what I want to do on Wednesdays,” Lightbody said, adding that she had “goosebumps” thinking about it.
The volunteers “are a big family,” she said. They help people get out of their cars in the parking lot and then change into bathing suits. They stay with their swimmers during the session. Each has at least one volunteer with them in the pool.
Sometimes it’s a small group of just five people who make it to the 1 o’clock sessions, and sometimes the group swells to 10 or 15, said Elizabeth Halverstam, who heads the local communications committee for the National Council of Jewish Women.
But one thing is for sure: Those who take part leave happy. Joan Orenstein is a certified trainer who helps in the pool and said she looks forward to Wednesdays.
“It just really makes you feel good when you leave that you did something really nice, and you had a good time doing it," she said.
The program, which has worked with hundreds of MS clients through the years, is looking for more volunteers and swimmers. For further information, email: [email protected].
Gene Myers covers disability and mental health for NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY Network. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.