Pottstown Mercury: GUEST COLUMN: This Veterans Day, look to the future our veterans fought to preserve

This Veterans Day offers a chance to thank those service men and women among us for their military service and dedication. Our veterans contribute their talents to building a strong defense so that our future is filled with freedom and opportunity.

Of course, today’s technologically sophisticated military bears little resemblance to the Armed Forces that earlier generations served. What never changes is the need for dedicated people, whether they flew biplanes in 1917 or operate unmanned drones today. These hardy souls are leaders, go-getters, team players, and good communicators, equipped with the character traits needed to become outstanding soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

However, we are concerned that too few young people today offer those innate capabilities needed to serve. According to the 2016 Citizen-Readiness Index, 72 percent of Pennsylvania youth ages 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service due to problems with obesity, education, drug abuse, or crime.

The Citizen-Readiness Index, produced by the Council for a Strong America, also found that, in Pennsylvania, 13 percent of youth ages 16 to 24 are unemployed and not in school, and that 13 youth out of 100 ages 17 to 24 have an arrest record.

These findings show that many young adults are not only barred from military service; they’re also not ready to function in our communities. Just like the military, businesses thrive on the contributions of energetic, creative self-starters, but employers are having trouble finding them, and the economy suffers.

Fortunately, we know a proven solution addressing all facets of this dilemma — high-quality prekindergarten. A formidable body of research has revealed the remarkable growth and development occurring in the brains of children from birth to age 5. With the proper environment, relationships, and enrichment, young brains form the connections that build the foundation for a lifetime of academic achievement, physical health, and social functioning.

Children from high-quality prekindergarten experience fewer grade repetitions and special education placements, lower rates of crime and incarceration, and increased graduation rates. They and their families are also likelier to learn healthy eating and exercise habits that substantially reduce childhood obesity.

The U.S. Department of Defense understands the direct line from early childhood to citizen-readiness, including possible military service. Defense Department initiatives have placed high-quality early learning facilities at bases worldwide, so active-duty personnel can do their jobs knowing that their young children are safe and secure in environments filled with learning opportunities.

And for the many military personnel who don’t live on base the Defense Department offers vouchers that substantially reduce the cost of quality prekindergarten. In a demonstration of the department’s commitment to high-quality early learning, these vouchers must be spent in facilities meeting measurable standards of excellence.

Pennsylvania has made impressive strides in delivering high-quality early learning to the children most likely to benefit, but need remains. In Montgomery County, 180 new state-funded pre-K slots were established this year. Yet, 85 percent of eligible young children still do not have access to high-quality, publicly funded prekindergarten. Pennsylvania should follow the military’s lead and continue to prioritize early education.

As we rightfully thank those men and women that have served in our Armed Forces this Veterans Day, let’s also reflect on the future and what we can do to ensure that more young people are citizen-ready.

State Representative Thomas P. Murt, 152nd Legislative District – Representative Murt previously served in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed with the 4th Infantry Division to Iraq in 2003. Contact info: 19 South York Road, Hatboro, PA 19040; tmurt@pahousegop.com; (215) 674-3755

Major General (Ret.) Wesley E. Craig, Jr., U.S. Army – General Craig previously served as Pennsylvania’s Adjutant General and currently sits on the Executive Advisory Council of Mission: Readiness – Military Leaders for Kids. Contact info:1615 Brent Road, Oreland, PA 19075; wcraig28@juno.com; (215) 317-2184

Read the editorial here.