Monday, July 1, 2013

Involuntary Service

This week retired General Stanley McChrystal will continue his advocacy for the “Franklin Project,” a group whose goal is to create a universal national service program for those between the ages of 18-28. Their message has gained so much momentum that it headlines this year’s security summit hosted by the Aspen Institute. Promoting this idea alongside the former General is a bold group of panelists (Mitch Landrieu, Barbara Bush, Wes Moore) whose aim is to make national service not just a new American priority, but also a rite of passage.  
It is easy to applaud an effort to engage young citizens by asking them to give back to their country. But it is harder to envision a motivated force taking up this groundbreaking charter simply because there is an emerging mandate. The push for greater participatory civil engagement stems from a group several generations removed from today’s millennials. The disconnect between these two demographics is striking. 
On one hand, McChrystal is a man who has dedicated himself to the service of this country in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other, 99% of the millennials that he wishes to recruit have never even worn the uniform. In addition to an obvious gap between these two, there is also contradiction. McChrystal (age 58), is leading the charge for compulsory service but missed Vietnam and the perils of a draft that required thousands of Americans to fight a war that they disagreed with.  He himself volunteered for service. Yet, his expectation is for the next crop of leaders to not come from the same voluntary mold. Ironically, this model seems incongruent with the definition of service than may have come to know.
To be fair, McChrystal has softened his approach in this area. He has previously stated that he believes in reinstituting a military draft. Few of his colleagues in the Franklin Project actually favor a mandatory service requirement. Instead, they support a program that is“socially obligatory,” that develops into a culture of service much like the WWII generation. Their aim is for institutions of higher learning to weigh service commitments heavily as being contingent for admission. This kind of incentive based project is not unique. Indeed, many servicemembers join the military today for educational packages like the Post-911 GI Bill and tuition assistance. Patriotism notwithstanding, such “carrots,” are strong recruiting tools that reel in large pools of talent for our armed services. 
This quid pro quo relationship between the government and its civil servants is a long-standing one. Those who wish to further their lives by using their military experience as a stepping-stone to other career goals are the norm rather than the exception. In fact, only17% of servicemembers actually make it to the 20-year requirement for a full retirement, and even those who get out in their early forties go on to do other things. The motives behind service range from Nationalistic to self-serving and every point in between.
Despite a cause for concern that young citizens are apathetic about shaping the future through public service, many millennials are doing just that privately. Social media has revolutionized the way the world communicates and this has spilled over into various sectors and industries. Millennials can take credit for that. Moreover, mission statements by many companies are evolving to encompass globally aware brands to meet social objectives alongside profit maximization. An emerging “Conscious Capitalism,” is becoming a growing trend in business and is seen as more attractive to both consumers and job seekers. Therefore, the notion of service should not only be seen as something the public sector can produce but one that encompasses much more. 
Public-private partnerships are already being used to tackle a multitude of issues of national interest. Continuing to strengthen these bonds so that they work in concert with one another in order to maximize effort is both strategic and economically efficient. Small government proponents will look at a national service requirement as an overextension of Uncle Sam’s powers and yet another big government takeover that costs money. The argument against such a project is much more than political. It is fundamental. 
Service by its nature is a choice. Volunteerism by order or societal pressure cheapens its meaning and in turn has the potential to weaken its product. While a wake up call should never be discounted, Millennials do not necessarily need someone telling them how to serve after high school. Many are figuring this out themselves. Instead of a mandatory public service component (e.g. military, peace corps, AmeriCorps), the US ought to foster innovative problem solving at the individual level. World problems are constantly evolving each day and finding answers takes much longer than a year commitment. It will take a sustainable effort across various industries based on individual initiative and ingenuity. Millennials must become empowered to find solutions in a way that fits their generation not their parents’. 
In McChrystal’s op-ed in the WSJ, he cited a 2011 study, stating that there were far more applicants for AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps than there were positions. Those statistics alone prove affirmative that the Franklin Project is right in assessing the desire of young citizens that want to serve. Where there is a void in funding or positions, there is an opportunity to create something much more powerful and lasting. Newly minted veterans are leading this charge and are finding ways to serve outside the traditional models. The key is to encourage and mobilize a group of citizenry that serves because they want to, not because they are coerced.
The all-volunteer force is elite because they chose to put themselves in harms way. Would this country really want to involuntarily put someone on the front lines again that was only mildly interested in self-sacrifice? Would growing the Peace Corps from 8,000 volunteers to 80,000 non-volunteers really make the world any more or less peaceful? 
McChrystal’s audacious plan is ambitious; it is admirable, but regretfully misguided. Where he and the Franklin Project miss the mark, is that America is best when its people are called to service, not ordered. The one common denominator found in today’s military, is that their service is 100% voluntary. They raise their right hand understanding the risks and our country is better for it. 
A rite of passage for citizens is found no place in our Nation’s history. The idea that everyone ought to “earn” his or her citizenship is not only Constitutionally flawed, it is erroneous. America is great because it is free. Free to go to war or protest. Free to be friendly to its neighbors or privately ignore them completely. Many of us who have served this country did so because we believed in the ideals of that freedom. To mandate anything else is un-American. 
This article was originally published at the Joint Security Blog and featured at the Spirt of War.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Four Planes Took Off

Four planes took off
Passengers destined for locations of work, play, reunion, and love;
Just a few directed for a destiny of destruction

Four locations.

Two buildings reaching to the skyline
Employees, bosses, friends, associates, some people who did not know one another
Busy at work, talk around the coffee machine
Talk of business, family, children, and the score of Sunday’s ball game-Pop Warner, high school, college, NFL.

A building built in five angles
Employees directed to protect this hallowed ground of America
Employees of a nation dedicated to freedoms
Employees tasked with protecting those freedoms.

A farming field
Quiet except for the crickets talking to one another, the butterflies with wings fluttering in harmony, the bees busy at gathering the nectar of the flowers
Another morning of harmony of nature.

Then the unnatural
Then the insult to the value of humanity
Then an attack upon this country, upon its people, upon its families, and upon those families of families.

But out of the horror, the death, the destruction,
Came the heroes of the first responders, the heroes of all at each location
For some to save each other, for others in that peaceful field of Pennsylvania to save us all.

Giving with their might, with their courage, with their lives so that others could survive and live in freedom.
So that others, that survive, can still proclaim God Bless America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, This is Our Land and this is Your Land.

For us and our children, our grandchildren, 9/11 will always be our Pearl Harbor, a day that will live in infamy, but also a day that will forever define our today’s and our tomorrows- a nation of freedom that will never be destroyed. 

May we remember and never forget September 11.

All Gave Some; Some Gave All

I wanted to post this so that it could be seen by others. The thoughts below are those of my father's. I hope you enjoy them.

 It was June 1965 and I was graduating from high school.  I was on my way to college at the College of the Holy Cross.  My entire future was in front of me.  I did not have a good handle on my future aspirations other than wanting to help my fellow human beings.  I still hung with a dream of becoming a doctor but I would not get that opportunity in my freshman year as the college had only accepted me with the option for pre-med after my freshman year.

In moving in, I met many of my classmates who were engaged in the ROTC program.  I was not convinced that the Vietnam War was a solution for America.  My generation had lived through the assassination of its president in 1963.  My generation had been moved by President Johnson’s “New Society” program as a solution for the divisions that was within our country could be resolved.  But then all resources seemed to be turned towards the war effort.  What had previously been an advisory role in that country had been converted to armed support for the South Vietnamese.  What had previously been a rather innocuous registration in the Selective Service had become a badge of courage or, at least, a badge of identification and tracking of each male 18 years old in America.
Just as suddenly, the nightly news was absorbed with the battle fields of strange sounding names- Saigon, Tet Offensive, Mekong Delta, and leaders of that country- Diem, Ho Chi Ming.  It was described by our leaders as a war against Communism, a civil war, a war that must protect our home land’s security.  All confusing, all complicated engagements.

It was a thousand miles away but involved our every day.  It enlisted voluntarily or involuntarily millions of young American men.  Men who were 18 or older.  Are they men?  They could not even buy a beer. 

And then it really hit home for me when my first classmate would be killed ‘across the pond’ in a rice paddy.  Jay Hurd had graduated with me.  He was a great young guy.  He was in the high school band.  He was destined to be a great father. Then Chuck Whittecomb would die as a tail gunner in a helicopter.  The military would say that the life expectancy for them was less than a half an hour.  What was he thinking?  We would not ski together.  I would not hear him play the drums in a band of young people singing Beatles and Beach Boys. Then Bob DeRoy would die.  I would no longer play baseball with him.  He would never return to home and raise a family. 

 Why them and not me?  We all grew up together.  We all went to school together.  We had all thought about starting a family.  Coming home to buy a house. 

 Even though I served my country, I do not consider myself in the company of these American heroes- who left the security of their loved ones and home, to fight for the freedoms we knew so little about in a country whose language we could not speak, who would die without any loved ones there to protect them as they suffered, who would breath their last breaths with the smell of gunshots hanging over them in this air hanging over their heads.

 These would not be the only ones who would lose their lives to that war- Bob Ahern, who volunteered to serve after law school because it was the right thing to do, who it would be determined would be killed by friendly fire, the only child of his father and mother, and his father and mother would never be the same.  Jim Sawyer whose mother was a registered nurse with mom, who was a year behind me in school.   Dave Hill, whose hearing would have been taken from him after serving in the artillery unit in Vietnam but could no longer hear the train approaching on the train tracks. 

 And the end of the war was one I don’t want to see repeated in Iraq or Afghanistan, we abandoned our allies to be killed, imprisoned, and worse.  We fled their allegiance.  We turned our backs on them.  We said our word is not worth the paper it is printed on. 

 Seeing that wall tears at emotion that I have inside- sadness, self doubt, anger, shame, courage, love, and pride in a generation which has been called lazy, undisciplined, “sex, drugs, rock and roll”.  We challenged authority because we saw so many die without reason.  We envisioned a world that could live in peace.  We knew what commitment was.  These 57,000 never ran.  These stood for our rights to disagree with leadership and died never knowing that even though they did not win in those rice paddies, they won at home.  They may have not received the accolades that today’s soldiers receive but accomplished much because they insured that we, indeed, still have those freedoms. 

 And I wonder how my two boys could have chosen as my classmates and I know that they learned that it is important that we are given opportunities to make a difference each in our lives.  We must have the courage to answer that challenge.  We run the race, we must win the fight. 

 As the country song says, all gave some and some gave all.  Those names represent those whose legacy is that they gave it all and that we all need to know legacy will always burn bright no matter that the monument is back for the conflict that we had within ourselves. 

Why the 47% Matters

In this country we ask our elected officials to represent our best interests. While we may not all agree on the best strategies or policies to move us forward, we believe that no matter who gets elected, that they will remember that we are the “United” not “Divided” States of America.  Last month at a fundraiser for the presumably 1% of Americans, Mitt Romney wrote off almost half of the constituents for the office that he seeks. To some this was a pandering to specific donors who were prepared to contribute to his campaign. Yet to others, it was a cautionary tale of like-minded plutocrats who like Mitt Romney, feel that 47% of Americans are entitled. This of course is a stark contrast in opinions over the controversial speech, one that undoubtedly splits across the party lines. If we take his word for it, Mr. Romney is remorseful and regrets the comments he made. More probable, is that like Joe Biden’s past gaffes; he meant what he said.

I can’t pretend to get into Mitt Romney’s mind as to what would prompt such arrogant and unfounded language. I can only tell you who these 47% are in my own life and why yes, they absolutely matter.

The 47% is one of my co-workers. He is a good, capable and honorable family man. He has deployed several times because of his commitment to defend this nation. The 47% is my teacher friend who educates the children of North Carolina and sacrifices weekends to do classroom prep work despite having had a pay freeze for the sixth consecutive year. She earns $1800 a month. The 47% is a friend who is now in his 4th year of graduate school and is pursuing a PhD. The 47% is my grandmother who worked her entire adult life as a nurse practitioner. She looked after the sick and at times the dying. She has never missed paying her taxes nor would she be ashamed to show her statements to anyone who asked. Mitt Romney said that “these people,” refuse to take responsibility for their own lives. Yet ironically, when pressed he didn’t take responsibility for his own comments.

I can see how politically wise it might be to court the rich donors of the 1%. With their money, Mitt’s campaign will surely outspend his opponent.  We are not a country of the 1%. We don’t just represent the people who think, act and look like us. We are not a country club. We are a Country! We are made up an array of socioeconomic classes and when all is said and done, we want to be neighbors and have a government that thinks not about 47% but of the totality of the 100%.

Based on his financial and gene pool inheritance, Mitt Romney believes he is entitled to the Presidency. On November 6th, let’s make the case for why he’s not.