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Time to make America serve again

Published in the Washington Examiner, May 29, 2019

Throughout my 23 years of service as a Green Beret, I’ve learned a few different things. The military teaches you perseverance, discipline, and teamwork -- but one of the most important values that military service teaches you is the ethos of service.

May is Military Appreciation Month, a time when Americans honor our fallen military members and remember their service and sacrifices for our country. I believe if we truly want to commemorate our military and their efforts to better our country, we too must exemplify that same giving spirit -- we too must also answer the call to serve.

That’s why this Military Appreciation Month, I urge all Americans to step up and serve.
It’s true our military members have dedicated their lives to serving our country. National service is at the heart of our military operations. That service extends beyond basic training and the battlefield, and directly into our communities. Our military has taught Americans the value of camaraderie and understanding. It’s led the way on many important issues in our country’s history.

Take segregation, for example. In the trenches, no one cares whether you’re black or white, rich or poor, or a Republican or a Democrat. You all serve the same country. You’re all on the same mission to accomplish your goal. That’s why in 1948, President Harry Truman desegregated our armed forces, allowing African Americans to serve alongside white Americans.

At the time, this was an unmatched and bold political act — but it was one which set an example and paved the way for the rest of America to follow suit.

If we follow the example of our military and embark on a national service mission, I believe we can find common ground to unite our country once more.

We need to make America serve again. We need a national service corps.

It is time to renew our call to national service. That doesn’t mean a national draft to our military, but promoting a commitment for young people to get off the couch, get away from video games, and get to work in our communities.

The Israelis make a national service corps mandatory, but their population is 8 million, while ours is 329 million. While we can’t mandate a service corps, we can greatly incentivize it through other channels, like hiring incentives, college credits, or a G.I. Bill equivalent.

Like our military, a national service corps could bring people of different backgrounds together to focus on improving outcomes for society in healthcare, education, and the environment. Community tutoring, volunteering at health clinics, assisting at an elderly home, participating in a local beach clean-up, helping preserve our national parks — all of these are just some examples of how you can engage and make a difference in your community.

Service also provides socioeconomic benefits. For many, the military is a path out of poverty and a gateway to a new life, providing them with new skills and training to enter the workforce.

One of the other great benefits of the draft to past generations was that it forced young men from all races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds together, from Detroit to Florida to Los Angeles — all in service to their country.

A veteran once told me that coming from the segregated South, the first black man he ever spoke to was his bunkmate in the Navy. This veteran and the man became lifelong friends.

Engaging in service at a young age is important. It can be life-changing, teaching our youth lessons they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. That is not only good for them, but good for the world around us and good for our future.

But regardless of age, you’re never too old or young to serve others.

Service doesn’t only benefit others. It benefits us individually as well. Numerous studies show putting the needs above others before our own can help us lead happier, healthier lives. Researchers at Notre Dame found Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” volunteer an average of nearly six hours per month as opposed to “unhappy” respondents who volunteer only 0.6 hours per month.

Service is not just a military value — it’s an American one. By serving others, Americans can share that same national sacrifice made by our military. I believe that this is the best way we can celebrate our servicemen and servicewomen who laid down their lives for our country and our freedom. As a Congressman and a veteran, I plan to make America serve again through a national service corps.