In a world that is highly competitive for jobs and the ability to be self-sustaining, education is vital to succeed in life and attain financial security. For many young people without the means to attend college, a career in our nation's armed forces can give them the skills and training they needed to succeed both in and outside of the military.

Young people have joined the military for decades upon their high school graduation to gain experience, see the world, and learn skills that would be transferable to the private sector upon discharge. But, increasingly, that path is unavailable today and we are unable to keep the promise of a better life through service to our country.

Why?  Because as many as one third of the high school graduates who take the military entrance exam fail.

An alarming fact is that 70 percent of 17-to-24 years olds in the U.S. cannot serve in the military because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have serious criminal records. Think about that for a minute -- 70 percent?!

Investing early in the upcoming generation is critical to securing our nation’s future, according to Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders.

Mission: Readiness believes that improving early childhood education could help change that, and is strongly aligned with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, advocating for high-quality early education because brain science shows essential neural connections are formed in the early stages of life.

While trends in education reform come and go, research shows that there is a solution that is consistently proven over time. High-quality early childhood education can prepare children to start school ready to learn. It can improve student performance, boost high school graduation rates, deter youth from crime, and, by helping children develop healthy early exercise and good nutrition habits, even help reduce childhood obesity rates.

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is working across sectors to change this startling fact: The pool from which employers, colleges, and the military draw is too small, and still shrinking, because millions of American children get to fourth grade without learning to read proficiently.

Incredibly important is that all of our children are able to read on grade level by third grade. Why? Did you know that up until third grade, children are learning to read, once they are in fourth grade they are reading to learn.

Whether our children choose to serve in our military or work in the private sector, they deserve to have a choice. So many men and women have served and sacrificed in many different ways to ensure our freedoms in this great nation of ours. That is why the Campaign for Grade Level Reading is striving to ensure we can give each of our children the foundation they need to learn to read, become better educated and build a successful life.

Linda Gould, a consultant to the The Patterson Foundation and a retired U.S. Army Colonel, also contributed to this post.

photo credit: Future Soldiers stand in formation at new LA recruiting station via photopin (license)

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