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Why Every American Should Pledge One Year Of Public Service
“Military veteran” is one of the few terms — and experiences — that binds people from different backgrounds who don’t know one another. The question, “Where’d you serve,” is a social level-setter, and points to something much deeper than being alumni of the same school or having grown up in the same hometown. It’s such a strong bond, in fact, that many military vets have trouble connecting with people who haven’t had that experience.
But, if more people, especially military veterans, were willing to see it, there’s an opportunity for a similar bond between military veterans and others who have served as teachers, AmeriCorps members, foreign service officers, Peace Corps volunteers, and an array of other opportunities where young people step out of their comfort zone to serve a cause greater than themselves.
I’d encourage all military veterans to take a much broader view of service, and act on it. When you’re transitioning back home, in to school, and in to work, don’t just sniff out the military veterans — search for all sorts of people who have different service backgrounds. The question, “Where’d you serve,” can mean many things to many people. You’ll find a rich and broad pool of friendships there.
In fact, I think our country would be a better place if every young American engaged in some type of full-time public service. Imagine if the starting point for every conversation wasn’t, “Where’d you go to school,” or “Where are you from,” but rather, “Where did you serve?”
Of course, the point of such service isn’t limited to some need for cohesion (though I do think that’s important). Service is a great strategy for solving real problems in education, health care, conservation, and an array of other areas of unmet need. And it’s equally empowering as it helps to mold young men and women into mature, others-oriented adults and future leaders.
I currently serve as the director of The Franklin Project, an initiative begun two years ago by retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal. We’re aiming to make a year of service a cultural expectation, common opportunity, and civic rite of passage for every young American. Most young people would not join the military, but would complete a civilian service year at a host institution such as a school or nonprofit. As one of many initiatives, we’ve released a pledge whose aim is to democratize the meaning of “service to country” by getting members of the military, veterans, and family community to express support for the idea.
In the last several weeks, the on-again, off-again debate about the draft has re-emerged. To be clear: The Franklin Project is not advocating for a draft. Nevertheless, the debate tends to focus around two poles. Some argue that a draft would prevent protracted conflicts and solve all of our social ills. Others suggest that a military draft is wasteful, and that any form of universal service smacks of unbridled idealism and social engineering.
There’s a healthy in-between. While mass conscription wouldn’t be useful, our culture would be better off if some type of service was expected, as much as a high school education is an expectation today. To be sure, the burden of the last 13 years of war has been placed on a small percentage of our society, but it’s also a sign of progress that our nation is so secure even as so few Americans are asked to take up arms in our defense.
We don’t need social re-engineering, but it would be helpful to course correct for some of the unforeseen consequences of our national progress. Because there’s no longer any common experience of citizenship, and no correlated sense of duty, we hold our citizenship in less esteem. It’s also easier to live our lives with less empathy for others: As one example, Americans are less likely than ever to live near someone in a different income bracket. National service will not solve income inequality, but it would create an experience where people from different backgrounds have the chance to know one another and work in a team. That’s a good thing, and not an opportunity enough Americans have in school, at the office, or in the normal course of life.
A culture that expects service would not make for a perfect America, but it would make for a country more aligned with our stated values and ideals. Practically speaking, national service has the power to solve some problems, transform young people’s lives, and unite Americans from different backgrounds.
It’s a paradox that we’re more connected to that which we’ve sacrificed for than that which we were given. I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to take responsibility for something greater than myself, to have had the chance to get close enough to a problem to smell it and respect it, and to have done it with a cross-section of Americans from every background. Many people are doing such service today; some abroad in tanks, planes, helicopters, COPs, patrol bases, and ships, and others at home in classrooms, community centers, ball fields, and national parks. If everyone had such an opportunity, our country, and our citizens, would be better off.
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
You can almost smell the gunpowder in the scene captured by a Marine photographer over the weekend, showing a Marine grunt firing a shotgun during non-lethal weapons training.
A Marine grunt stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is being considered for an award after he saved the lives of three people earlier this month from a fiery car crash.
Cpl. Scott McDonell, an infantry assaultman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was driving down Market Street in Wilmington in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 when he saw a car on fire after it had crashed into a tree. Inside were three victims aged 17, 20, and 20.
"It was a pretty mangled wreck," McDonell told ABC 15. "The passenger was hanging out of the window."
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.