Military and national service members build homes together in Annapolis, Maryland. Source: Habitat for Humanity
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the heroism of Americans across the country. In every community, service is front and center. Active, reserve, and National Guard service members, as well as retirees, are assisting with the response. Teachers are adjusting their lesson plans to ensure our youth are still learning. National service members are delivering meals to homebound seniors. Public health officials at all levels are leading the fight.
America is a nation built on service. Americans answer the call to serve every day, especially in times of crisis. It is this extraordinary spirit of service that continues to shape our nation. Today, nearly 24 million individuals participate in some form of military, national, or public service.
As Vice Chair of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, I witnessed this spirit of service firsthand. The Commission traveled to 22 states and 42 cities. I watched Americans support each other as they have for over 200 years. I saw them step up when they were needed, contributing their sweat and ingenuity without expecting anything in return.
Service brings people together and develops skills and leadership abilities. It also maximizes federal investments and helps local, state, and national initiatives become realities.
Service is central to who we are as Americans, yet in a nation of 329 million, the full, transformational potential of service is largely untapped. In March 2020, the Commission released its final report, Inspired to Serve, with 164 recommendations to help strengthen all forms of service–service that can address critical security and domestic needs, invigorate civil society, and strengthen our democracy.
The recommendations are designed to capitalize on the spirit of service present in so many American communities. They also aim to cultivate a widespread culture of service in which individuals of all backgrounds are aware of, have access to, and aspire to serve their communities and their nation. Our vision is that by the year 2031, five million new Americans will begin to serve in military, national, or public service each year. Service will be a common expectation among American youth and something that experienced individuals return to throughout their lives. Enhancing America’s culture of service will invigorate civic life and strengthen the foundations of the country. Americans deserve a clear and supported path to service. We are calling on Congress and the president to invest in the American people and the security of the nation. Join us in making our vision a reality: every American inspired and eager to serve.
Debra Wada is Vice Chair of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. From 2014 to 2017, she served as the Assistant Secretary of Manpower and Reserves Affairs for the United States Army. Prior to that, she spent over 25 years in Congress, including more than a decade of experience on the House Armed Services Committee.