Americans want to serve — it’s up to us to give them the chance
Throughout the course of history, Americans have, time and again, come together in moments of crisis to confront our challenges and move the country forward. As I envision a path out of the current crises facing our nation, I believe this moment is no different.
For the past three years, I served as the chairman of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, a position I was appointed to by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and which allowed me to continue my own service to our country, building upon my current service in the Army Reserve and my experience as a former three-term Republican congressman. Throughout the congressionally-mandated Commission’s tenure that explored America’s appetite for service and the potential need for a military draft, we traveled across the country hearing from Americans about their desire to serve, the barriers to service, and their ideas for inspiring more people to serve.
During those listening tours, we met Americans from both sides of the political aisle who were willing to roll up their sleeves, put their differences aside, and get to work for the good of the country. Conversation after conversation, one theme continued to ring true — service, in all its forms, is critical to the well-being and security of our nation. Whether folks served overseas with our military, mentored students in classrooms here at home, or spent decades in public service at the state, local or tribal level, they all felt some ownership for the success of our nation. They had skin in the game and wanted the best for the country as a whole.
It was one of the most humbling and moving experiences of my career and I am committed to making sure their voices and ideas are put into action. That is why I have signed on as a co-chair of the Serve America Together campaign, a first-of-its-kind coalition of military and civilian service organizations working to make national service — including military, civilian, and public service — part of growing up in America.
Given the current crises we face today, that sentiment — the sense of responsibility for the future of America — is more important than ever before. We should be doing everything we can to embrace that energy and put those dedicated individuals into action through national service.
Much has changed since the Commission issued its final report, “Inspire to Serve,” in the spring of 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 164 recommendations made in the report based on the stories we heard continue to ring true, and I am dedicated to ensuring that Americans feel inspired to serve and are ready to tackle, head-on, the challenges that are facing our country.
But in order to usher our report into reality in the months and years ahead, we need bold leaders on Capitol Hill and a president in the White House who is willing to prioritize service to our country.
Fortunately, we’ve seen incredible leadership from Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) who have introduced the Inspire to Serve Act to encompass all of the recommendations from our report. We also saw a new report from the House Armed Services Committee Future of Defense Task Force calling out the importance of national service for the national security of our nation and picking up some of the Commission’s recommendations.
Additionally, we’ve seen tremendous progress made by 18 bipartisan senators — led by Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — who are pushing for the expansion of civilian national service to address the coronavirus pandemic through the CORPS Act. The bill calls for expanding AmeriCorps opportunities today from 75,000 to 250,000 for the next three years to meet our nation’s urgent needs.
I’ve heard countless stories over the past several months about young people serving with AmeriCorps who are supporting the public health community and slowing the spread of the virus, combating food insecurity, and providing critical assistance to teachers and students as they grapple with virtual learning. There’s never been a more critical moment for a significant investment in national service, and we are well on our way to making national service an opportunity for all.
In order to ensure that national service remains a national priority, the Serve America Together campaign is urging the presidential candidates to prioritize national service. The campaign’s policy platform echoes many of the critical recommendations from the Commission’s report and picks up the baton from our team of bipartisan commissioners. From ensuring that all young Americans, no matter their background, have the opportunity to serve with programs like AmeriCorps to creating an interagency council at the White House that oversees all forms of service — the platform aligns well with the policy priorities of the Commission and I am eager to be part of this campaign that is lifting them up for the candidates.
As we wade through these challenging times, I urge us to remember that Americans want to be part of the solution to our problems. I am encouraged by the overwhelming desire to serve our country, but we must take action and determine how to provide every young American the opportunity to serve our country.
Dr. Joe Heck was chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He recently joined the Serve America Together campaign as a co-chair. He is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and represented Nevada’s 3rd District in the House of Representatives from 2011-2017. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, or Army Reserve.
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