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Commission Submits Recommendations to Encourage Americans to Serve

March 25, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Education and opportunity are at the heart of the recommendations set forth in a report by the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.

Leaders of the commission virtually briefed reporters on their recommendations today.

The commission concluded that the time is right to extend Selective Service System registration to include men and women between the ages of 18 and 26. "This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency," the report says.

The congressionally mandated commission looked at the opportunities for service across the country, and the members found that Americans still have a propensity to volunteer.

Students meet soldiers.
Group Photo
High school students from the Killeen Independent School District attend the Army Career Expo at Fort Hood, Texas, March 3, 2020. The students participated in a basic training demonstration that featured drill sergeants and physical training equipment.
Photo By: Army Pfc. Alisha Edwards
VIRIN: 200303-A-SC166-005M

"We found that as the case was 200 years ago during the earliest days of the republic, America's extraordinary and long-standing spirit of service continues to shape our nation," said Joe Heck, the commission chairman. "Americans repeatedly step up in support of each other, offering their sweat and ingenuity when needed, without expectation of anything in return."

Cultivating that spirit of service is behind the recommendations, the commission chairman said, because much work lies ahead. "We have not unlocked the full transformational potential of service to address critical national and local needs and reinforce the civic fabric of American society," Heck said. "Our vision is of a nation in which service is a common expectation and experience of all Americans — when it is the norm, not the exception, [and] when every American is inspired, and eager to serve."

The commission looks toward 5 million Americans serving in one capacity or another in the military, in organizations such as the Peace Corps, or in federally supported national service opportunities each year, Heck said, as well as a modernized government personnel system "attracting and enabling Americans with critical skills and new generations to enter public service."

The commission's long-term goal is a culture of service in the United States that attracts people of all backgrounds who aspire to participate in opportunities to serve their communities or nation, Heck said.

On the military side, the starting point is a strong, all-volunteer force that can recruit and retain the personnel it needs to meet current and emerging threats, said Debra Wada, the commission's vice chair for military issues. This is complicated by the fact that Americans are less connected to the military than ever before, she noted.

"This growing civil-military divide poses challenges to military recruitment," she said. "Fewer than one in five young adults can name all five branches of the military."

Education itself is a recommendation of the commission. They noted that many Americans can't name the rights protected by the First Amendment. Many couldn't name the three branches of the U.S. government.

Cadets stand in front of a remotely piloted vehicle.
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Cadets and cadre of the San Jacinto High School Air Force Junior ROTC stand in front of an MQ-9 Reaper from the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., Feb. 12, 2020. Community relations tours with ROTC groups aim to inspire future military leaders through increased awareness of life on a military base.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Neil Mabini
VIRIN: 200212-Z-UP244-1133M

There should be some form of instruction for Americans to understand their government and how it works, said Mark Gearan, the vice chair for national and public service. This is the heart of an informed citizenry making informed choices, he added.

The commission wants to improve military outreach around the country. Access to bases, partnerships between National Guard and reserve component units and local schools are part of that outreach. The commissioners also would like to see Junior ROTC expanded. 

The commission recommended promoting administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Career Exploration Program. The battery is taken by fewer than 5% of U.S. secondary students. Expanding that percentage would allow "more students to learn about citizenship and service, gain familiarity with the military, and understand how their own strengths could translate into military careers and other service options," the commission's report says.

Recruiters should look in underrepresented markets to help the military meet its recruiting goals while improving the geographic and demographic balance of the armed forces to better reflect the diversity of the nation, the report states.

The commission also wants to enable greater movement among all components of military service and between military service and the private sector. The services are already working this aspect, and the commissioners believe this will offer the armed forces "a more effective approach to continual access to individuals with key skills, such as digital talent or engineering," the report says.