It is time for mandatory national service

In light of the pandemic, social unrest and economic uncertainty — now more than ever — we must come together as a nation to help make our country a better place for all. The best way to do that is by investing in our present and future.

National service for those aged 18-22 would take a great burden off the labor market at this time of high unemployment and give our youth — regardless of class — the assignment of contributing to the betterment of their lives and of our country. National service can take many forms. Some may want to serve in the military, while others may want to serve in the Park Service, in homeless shelters, charities, churches, etc. Everyone can do something, and all must do what they can.

My mother used to say all the time “an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop,” and that is true. Youth need to learn that a life is not complete without service to a cause bigger than themselves. Service and giving back and learning and appreciating the good America has to offer is as important as helping to change what is wrong with our country.

All youth aged 18-22 would be screened for aptitude and placement. They would then be offered choices of service. Some may want to stay close to home, while others may want to relocate for a time. All would be paid for their contributions commensurate with their service contribution and locality of their assignment.

A successful completion of service for many will be life changing. Many will find careers, and others will be exposed to people and experiences they never would have but for national service. Let’s face it, as people live longer, adolescence and coming of age is prolonged. It is not a cliché to say that an 18-year-old 50 years ago was much more mature than an 18-year-old today. The idea that a parent would be responsible for the medical care of a 26-year-old son or daughter 50 years ago would have been unthinkable.

Some may also be able to obtain college credits for their service, while others might be able to get vocational accreditations. All would receive the equivalent of an “Honorable Discharge” upon successful completion of their service.

The president should add another Cabinet-level department to the executive branch: the “Department of National Service.” The secretary would work with all Cabinet agencies to establish within their departments an “Office of National Service.” All cabinet agencies would be responsible for offering national service opportunities. In addition, the Secretary of National Service would work with the private sector to create opportunities and incentives for placement across a broad spectrum of businesses, not-for-profits and faith-based entities.

National service is not a new or novel concept. Many countries already have such a requirement, where youth are required by law to perform a year or more of service and are offered a choice between community service and the military. Israel requires mandatory military service for all citizens over the age of 18 for two years.

By investing in our youth today, we would be empowering them to become better people and more productive and appreciative citizens. Our country would benefit greatly from their service, and they would learn invaluable skills and life lessons.

Now is the time for youth of goodwill to come to the aid of their country.

Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business.

Tags Civil society community service Coronavirus coronavirus lockdown coronavirus shutdown COVID-19 Economic recovery George Floyd protests National service

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