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Too Few Young Americans Signing Up to Serve, Commission Says

Soldiers, officers and civilian employees attend the commencement ceremony for the US Army's annual observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the Pentagon Center Courtyard in 2015 in Arlington, Virginia
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KRISTINA WONG

Young Americans have a desire to serve their nation in some way, but too few are signing up to do so, according to a report by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

“While service is encouraged by many families, schools, and communities, there is no widely held expectation of service in the United States. As a result, military, national, and public service is the exception rather than the rule,” commission Chairman Joe Heck, a Army Reserve brigadier general and former congressman for Nevada, wrote in the report.

“What we have found is that there is limited awareness of serving in the military. We are not getting enough young people who are inspired to join the military, to serve in national service programs, and what we want to do is increase that,” Commissioner Tom Kilgannon said in an interview on Sirius XM’s Breitbart News Sunday.

The commission was set up by Congress in 2015, to look at whether the nation still needs the Selective Service System, and whether women should also be required to register for it. In addition, the commission is looking at how to educate more young Americans on opportunities in military, national, and public service.

The Selective Service System is an independent agency that registers all American males ages 18-25 in the event a draft is instituted. After the Obama administration lifted the ban on women in combat in 2015, Congress created the commission to look at whether women should now be required to register for the Selective Service System as well.

The 11-member bipartisan commission issued an interim report on Wednesday, which laid out their findings so far, and the path ahead to March 2020, when they issue their final recommendations.

In conversations with a broad swath of the American public, they found that many young Americans want to serve, but are met with different barriers to that service.

One major barrier to service is lack of awareness of opportunities to serve.

The commission found that Americans have limited interactions with the military community and are unaware of the range of available career and service options in the military.

Kilgannon said many Americans do not realize the wide array of career options in the military.

“It’s not just the infantry, it’s computer science, medical, veterinary, there’s engineering,” he said. “Basically every kind of career and job opportunity that exists in civilian society exists in the military.”

The commission found that military recruiters are blocked from many schools, preventing students from learning about opportunities to serve in the military. They also found that many young Americans — 71 percent of those ages 17 to 24 — are not eligible for the military due to not meeting the qualifications.

“That’s something we’ve got to change in this country, because that will have a real impact on our national security,” Kilgannon said.

They also found that Americans who are ineligible for military service are rarely informed about opportunities to serve their nation in either national or public service.

“All these barriers — lack of connection with, awareness of, and eligibility for military service — are depriving Americans who would otherwise want to serve of the opportunity to do so,” the report said.

The commission also found that too few Americans are aware of opportunities in national service, such as with the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, YouthBuild, City Year, and Teach for America.

“More than 60 percent of young people ages 14 through 24 are not aware of service-year opportunities,” the report said.

The commission also found that some young Americans who wanted to participate in these programs could not afford to do so. For example, AmeriCorps offer living stipends that is typically near the poverty line and cannot cover the needs for some participants, it found.

The commission found that Americans find public service recruiting and hiring practices are out of touch with the realities of the modern workforce and insufficient to meet the needs of public servants working across all levels of government.

Civil servants complained that the federal hiring process is too slow, fails to accurately assess job applicants, is inflexible and inefficient, discouraging young Americans from applying.

The commission found that those under 35 make up 35 percent of the workforce, but only 17 percent of the federal workforce. “Young adults are avoiding or being turned away from federal employment,” the report said.

The commissioners said they were also struck by how often they heard people talk about the importance of a strong civic education. According to the report, only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of the U.S. government.

“The more often we heard Americans discuss this topic, the more we came to see it as far more than a simple refrain,” they said in the report.

“Civic education has a critical role in creating engaged citizens who are likely to contribute and make a positive impact on our nation,” they said. “Too few young people receive a solid foundation of civic knowledge.”

The commission said it is considering a number of recommendations to remedy the shortage of Americans signing up for military, national, and public service.

One potential recommendation is “universal service” — requiring every American to complete a dedicated period of military, national, or public service.

The commission is also considering how service could be integrated into high schools where it is not already, such as having a final semester in senior year dedicated to a hands-on learning experience.

The commission is currently soliciting feedback and ideas from Americans before issuing final recommendations in 2020. Public comment can be made at its website at Inspire2serve.gov.

In the meantime, Kilgannon urged more Americans to think about ways they can serve the country.

“Find a way to serve your country. It is inspiring, this is a very special place in which we live, and every American has rights, but I believe we also have responsibilities,” he said.

“And service to our country, whether that be in the military, through elected office, or government work, or national service programs, every American ought to roll up their sleeves and get involved to make this country a better place.”

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