The month of May brought together three things that at first don’t seem connected: strollers, motorcycles and budget documents.
The strollers, occupied by infants and toddlers, rolled through the streets of Capitol Hill by the hundreds in celebration of “Strolling Thunder,” which brought parents and caregivers from every state to urge Congress to support policies that give children the strongest possible start in life.
The motorcycles came to the nation’s capital a few weeks later to mark the 30th anniversary of “Rolling Thunder,” an annual event honoring POWs, MIAs and veterans of every generation.
On May 23, President Donald Trump released his fiscal year 2018 budget, outlining his administration’s proposals for how to move the country forward.
As a retired U.S. Air Force general and board member of Mission: Readiness, a national security organization working to ensure young men and women are qualified to serve our nation, I see both bad and good news in the synchronicity of these three events. The bad news is that roughly 7 out of every 10 young adults in the U.S. cannot qualify for military service because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a record of crime or substance abuse.
The good news is that “Strolling Thunder” presented a clear first step toward solving that problem by urging support for flexible and paid time off options so parents can bond with their babies; increased access to quality, affordable child care; and mental health supports in primary pediatric care and early childhood programs to support child development from day one.
That’s important because these early years are the foundation for all of the learning and development that follow. In fact, research shows that quality early childhood experiences can have a clear impact on whether young people graduate from high school, which is crucial for those who do want to join the military.
Which brings us to the White House’s budget recommendations and the other messages that members of Congress heard loud and clear: We need to continue efforts to prepare young moms and dads to be good parents, expand opportunities for quality child care, and ensure all kids have the opportunity to participate in high-quality preschool programs.
As members of Congress consider the White House budget proposal, they should keep in mind the lessons of both Strolling Thunder and Rolling Thunder. One event is about preparing kids to live up to their potential as citizens of this great nation. The other is about honoring those who have fought for it. But both are about making this country as strong as it can be.
So while strollers, motorcycles and budgets may seem to have little in common, the reality is that the future strength of our armed services is directly dependent on those young children. That’s why we must provide every child in this country with the support and education they need from the very start.
Expanding opportunities for quality early care and education programs means more kids will go to college, develop vital career skills, and, for those who choose to do so, cherish the pride and accomplishment that comes from earning the right to defend our nation. Putting more kids on that path today will enhance our national security for years to come.
Norman R. Seip is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general and a board member of Council for a Strong America’s Mission: Readiness, “a group of retired admirals and generals strengthening national security by ensuring kids stay in school, stay fit, and stay out of trouble.”