September 11th is a day for reflection. It’s a day to remember those who lost their lives, the first responders who risked everything for others, and those who stepped up to serve in the wake of the attacks.
To honor them, today is a National Day of Service. September 11, 2001 was a defining moment for all Americans, and a formative one for many young Americans, whose values of service and patriotism were in large part shaped by the experience of those attacks. In a time of great need, thousands of young Americans came together to serve — both at home and overseas — with a common goal of securing and strengthening the nation.
America’s national security is greater than the wars we fight, the intelligence we gather, or the defense systems we build. To be truly secure as a nation, our citizens must trust one another and share a common base of mutual respect and understanding.
Today, our country’s national security is at risk. The erosion of Americans’ faith in institutions and in each other is at a crisis point. This lack of trust is one of the most significant national security threats we face. We need to invest in solutions that makes us stronger as a nation. Universal national service — serving alongside your fellow Americans in military, civilian, or public service towards a common goal — is that solution.
Service not only builds character, skills, teamwork, and grit, but these values are reflected in the communities of veterans and alumni who have served. This sense of ownership over one’s actions, resilience in the face of challenges, and interconnectivity makes us more likely to see the results of our efforts and to recognize the institutional and democratic pathways to change.
Furthermore, studies show that people who serve are more empathetic than their peers who have not been given such an opportunity, and more capable of identifying with those who are different than themselves.
We are each veterans of military service in post-9/11 America. We are grateful for the opportunity to have served, but we recognize that not everyone has the same opportunities that we did. Less than 30% of young Americans even qualify for the US Armed Services and there are only 60,000 full-time civilian service year opportunities available each year. At the same time, one in four young Americans would serve here at home if given the opportunity. We are turning away scores of young Americans — young patriots — who raise their hands and say they want to serve. By failing to expand opportunities to serve, we are failing to prioritize our national security.
As coalition members of Serve America Together, a campaign to make national service part of growing up in America, we are working to change this reality. We believe that national service can promote a new commitment to our communities, to our country, and to our security at home. It can be the common bond among citizens from small towns and big cities, among Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and among those of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Serving our country — whether in the military or as a civilian — has the power to strengthen our nation and unify our citizens.
Universal national service is critical to the future and security of our country. That’s why we are calling on Congress and the 2020 presidential candidates to join us in this campaign to make national service part of the American way of life.