That Americans are dangerously disconnected from their military representatives is an interesting — quite accurate — comment, all the more interesting when the comment comes from the secretary of Defense.

That is the message Robert M. Gates delivered to a Duke University audience a few nights ago. Secretary Gates is the head of the military cadre he complained was cut off from the politics and culture of the country it serves, according to a press account of the speech. The few (less than 1 percent of the population) who have fought our wars are distant from their countrymen since we abolished the draft in 1970. Military service is “something for other people to do.” Our all-volunteer military force has served the country in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade, longer than any sustained combat in our country’s history.

Secretary Gates called on college students to consider military service, “the opportunity to be given extraordinary responsibility.” He needn’t have stopped there. The military is not the only route to public service. I would argue that all 18-year-olds or high-school graduates, male and female, be required to perform public service for a year or two, military service being only one of the options. It would be a growing-up experience, an opportunity to learn practical responsibilities and an introduction to the feeling of pride from public service.

I feel pride in my military service, and learned much from it. Comparable experiences working on civilian projects that serve the public would provide the same maturation opportunity and connection to their country for the next generation.

Others in the Cabinet, and in positions of influence outside government, should join and expand on Secretary Gates’s call to service.