Times-Leader: Column: Retired Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Perugino: Our nation’s military preparedness linked to our nation’s preschools
November 17, 2016

On Veterans Day, America paused to thank the men and women who have dedicated their lives to this nation and its freedom.

Of course, today’s military is vastly different from the armed forces of yesterday. The soldier who carried a musket or the flier who piloted a biplane would never recognize the precision-guided munitions or the unmanned aircraft of today.

While the values our veterans and current military personnel have cherished and protected never wavered, the military’s tools have grown increasingly sophisticated. Devotion to duty remains an expectation, but so are the ability to communicate, solve problems, think critically, and in many posts, perform technologically sophisticated tasks.

Unfortunately, the pool of qualified men and women capable of military service today – of becoming the veterans whose service we honor tomorrow – is diminishing. In Pennsylvania, 72 percent of youths ages 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service due to problems with obesity, education, drug abuse or crime, according to the Citizen-Readiness Index.

The index, produced by the Council for a Strong America, revealed two other sobering findings about preparedness. In Pennsylvania, 13 percent of youths (ages 16 to 24) are unemployed and not in school, and 13 youths out of 100 (ages 17 to 24) have an arrest record. The findings show that too many young adults aren’t ready to contribute to their country, the economy or their communities. They are disqualified from our military and ill-prepared to work in our businesses.

Fortunately, a known solution to this dilemma is at hand. Just as we plant seedlings and watch them grow into trees, we can plant the seeds of productive lifetimes in our youngest children. A strong body of research has proven that high-quality prekindergarten prepares children to succeed in school and beyond.

Children who enter school from quality early learning programs are better prepared for school, show lasting academic gains, and are less likely to engage in crime or substance abuse. In turn, that means they require less money in the form of taxpayer dollars be spent on things such as prisons and welfare, and more important, they grow into productive members of our communities.

With results like these, it’s no coincidence that the U.S. military has invested strategically in early learning. Children of active-duty families living on military bases worldwide can attend prekindergarten programs that meet the highest standards for promoting learning. This investment is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s $1.3 billion yearly commitment to children and youth.

Pennsylvania also has made impressive strides in delivering high-quality early learning to the children most likely to benefit, but need remains. In Luzerne County, more than 150 new state-funded pre-k slots were established this year. Yet 72 percent of eligible young children still do not have access to high-quality, public-funded prekindergarten. Pennsylvania should follow the military’s lead and continue to prioritize early education.

When we thank our veterans on Veterans Day, let’s not stop there. Let’s ensure that the hard work and sacrifice of previous generations are upheld and carried forward by our young residents.

Joseph F. Perugino, a Kingston resident, is a retired major general who previously commanded the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Infantry Division. He serves on the executive leadership council of Mission:Readiness – Military Leaders for Kids.

Read the column here.