I recently testified in support of L.D. 1760, An Act To Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Readiness, before members of the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Service Committee. This legislation proposes to create a much-needed program to provide comprehensive, high-quality early child care and education services for at-risk children.

I strongly support early care and education programs for all Maine kids. I do so as a private citizen, father, grandfather, former teacher, former adjutant general, retired Army major general, and a member of Mission: Readiness.

Mission: Readiness is a national organization of more than 750 retired admirals and generals, 31 of whom are right here in Maine, working to ensure that today’s young people are prepared for successful lives with many career options, including serving our nation in or out of uniform.

It was important to me to share with committee members why early education is crucial for the future success of young children who participate, but also as a matter of national security.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 71% of young Americans ages 17-24, and 68% here in Maine, are unable to serve in the United States armed forces. The primary disqualifiers for service are a lack of educational attainment, a criminal background, or a lack of physical fitness.

These high ineligibility rates considerably weaken our country’s capacity to recruit, train and retain a strong military to keep America safe.

Our military’s most important element is its people. Make no mistake: The men and women of our armed forces are dedicated and committed people, ready to defend our country and carry out their mission, and our military remains the strongest in the world. But I am concerned about our nation having enough educated, fit, and otherwise qualified young people to maintain our strength in the future.

We can help turn this situation around by creating and committing to programs, such as those that L.D. 1760 proposes, that strengthen investments in high-quality early childhood care and education.

The first five years of a person’s life are fundamental to all success or failure that comes afterwards. This is the time period when children develop core pre-literacy and pre-math skills, and the social and emotional skills that research shows help them become successful students and well-adjusted young adults.

A longitudinal study of more than 1,300 children found that kids in higher-quality child care were better prepared for school at age 4 compared to children in lower-quality childcare. At age 15, they were still performing slightly above their peers. Another recent study found that high-quality full-day childcare had a positive impact on children’s language development at age 2. This same study found that children in high-quality child care had significantly lower levels of behavior problems at age 5 compared to children in lower-quality child care. Other studies have also shown that, when childcare emphasizes healthy eating and physical activity, childhood obesity can be reduced.

By providing young children high-quality child care and early learning opportunities, we can help them become successful students who are more likely to finish school and pursue the career path of their choice. Key investments in early care and education will also increase the number of young people who will be qualified candidates for military service if they so choose.

For those of us who have made a career in the military, it has been an outstanding experience that afforded us opportunities for learning self-discipline, building professional skills, and serving our country and communities. It would be a shame for the next generation not to have the same opportunities.

I encourage Maine legislators and state policy makers to support L.D. 1760. Investments such as these will benefit the future success of our youth, our military’s readiness, protect our citizens’ safety, and keep our nation secure.

Major General Earl Adams, U.S. Army retired, is a resident of Pittston.

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