Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
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.
NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.
Hackers could have breached US bioterrorism defenses for years, records show. We'll never know if they did
The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.
The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.
The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.
The State Department doesn't really care if its human rights training for partner security forces is working or not
By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?
Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.
A Kansas VA hospital police supervisor reported 'dangerous' deficiencies among his officers. Now he says he faced retaliation
The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.
And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.
A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.