America needs public service to rebuild the nation in the new era

America needs public service to rebuild the nation in the new era
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As coronavirus infections and fatalities continue and Americans remain in lockdown for weeks or months to come, it becomes clearer every day that the new social, health, and economic reconstruction that must inevitably follow will be a gargantuan endeavor. This crisis arrived while the country remains divided along financial and political lines, and a recovery will not be achieved by a mere stimulus package or the outcome of the upcoming election. It will take compromise and shared sacrifice at a level not seen in modern history, marking a blessing in disguise. An important component of this vast reconstruction effort will be a national call for public service.

The Army has shifted to online recruiting and placed temporary holds on new basic training classes as a result of the pandemic. We are seeing in real time how vital our active, reserve, and National Guard forces are in responding to this disaster, and how our military needs individuals with skill sets in medicine, logistics, cybersecurity, and communications. Far too few Americans serve in the military, and the need for new recruits is greater than ever as our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard battle the coronavirus and secure the homeland. Exposing a new generation to military service needs to be front and center in this effort.

Civilian doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals were already stretched thin before the coronavirus hit our shores. They will be needed as the effects of the disease plague us in the months and years to come. States such as Massachusetts have begun setting up volunteer forces of health care professionals to help in curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Similar efforts will be needed across the country to place medical workers in the inner cities and rural communities that will be most in need of them.

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Millions of students across the country who will be unable to complete the school year will be at risk of falling behind. Our teachers are doing all they can, but they also need reinforcements. A temporary surge of educators to quickly staff summer schools, provide remedial distance learning, and supplement traditional classrooms once schools reopen could be key to ensuring that a generation of Americans do not suffer academic setbacks.

There will be demand for legal and financial advice as small businesses try to remain operational. The Small Business Administration and banks have already been overwhelmed as millions of entrepreneurs seek to navigate government programs designed to keep them afloat. But these programs will only be effective if Americans are able to take advantage of them, and professional service providers could be important to making that happen.

Similar to military service, there are benefits that can be used to make a public service mission possible for those at different points in their lives and careers. For younger Americans, this could be automatic admission into a public college or graduate school, discounted or subsidized tuition, and hiring preferences that are similar to those enjoyed by veterans. For those in the workforce, this could be student loan forgiveness, relocation assistance, and tax credits that last a period during or after service. These types of programs and benefits can be coordinated through national and local organizations that are already available, such as Teach for America.

Not only is this push for public service essential to address the pandemic and its aftermath, but this also provides an opportunity for Americans to serve shoulder to shoulder with others from every walk of life. When you serve in the military, you stop caring about the race, gender, religion and sexual orientation of the people working around you. The same goes for civilian programs that provide direct exposure to those most in need. It is difficult to hang onto outdated biases when you have broken bread with and experienced firsthand those struggles of fellow Americans. Whether teaching at an inner city school, working at a health clinic, or providing career counseling to displaced workers, such experiences break down barriers both for those who are assisted and those who do the service.

There will be no fast solution to repair the country once this crisis is over. From the top down, we can and should demand that our elected officials seek bipartisan compromise and hold them accountable if they fail to do so. From the bottom up, we have to find opportunities for all Americans to repair the health and economic damage that has already been done. With this pandemic will come a cure, and the call for public service is what is needed to heal the great political divide that ravages our country today.

Joseph Moreno is a former prosecutor with the Justice Department and a United States Army veteran. Sharad Samy serves on the board of trustees of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, is general counsel for Common Fund, and is a United States Army veteran. The opinions written above are solely those of the authors and not their respective employers.