Report | April 27, 2023

Military Ineligibility is Increasing — Elevating the Need for Early Childhood Investments

High-quality early learning programs can help Illinois strengthen national security

The proportion of youth ineligible to serve in our nation’s armed forces has risen to a shocking 77 percent, up from an already-alarming 71 percent just a few years ago. This shrinking pool of eligible recruits poses a threat to our military preparedness, national security, and the security of our state. Fortunately, there are public-policy solutions for addressing these challenges. Among them are high-quality early childhood education (ECE) programs that can aid in reducing the factors that lead to military ineligibility by helping children become healthy and fit adults, do well in school, avoid criminal behavior, and eventually pursue any career they choose—whether military service or otherwise.

ECE settings such as preschool and child care serve as essential venues for promoting healthy habits like, good nutrition and physical activity. Early learning providers can help children develop healthy habits at a young age by serving nutritious meals and ensuring that children get adequate exercise throughout the day, reducing children’s risk of obesity and other health issues as these healthy habits can last a lifetime.

Major General (Ret.) Gary R. Dylewski, U.S. Air Force

Investments in high-quality early childhood education for our youngest learners are critical to ensure all of Illinois’ children are prepared for the future.

Major General (Ret.) Gary R. Dylewski, U.S. Air Force, Peoria, IL

Another major disqualifier, substance abuse, can lead to physical and behavioral health issues, family problems, or lost income and productivity. Early-in-life challenges known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, or witnessing parental drug abuse, can induce toxic stress which impairs brain development. If these risk factors can be addressed early in life, substance use disorders and related problems can be prevented.

In order to ensure that all children in our state have the opportunity to succeed, Illinois must increase access to equitable, evidence-based, and high-quality ECE programs. Policymakers at the state and national levels should continue to expand high-quality early education to ensure that all children are prepared to pursue whatever career they choose, including military service.


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