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Rep. Charles Rangel

Rep. Charles Rangel

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Why We Need Universal Service

Posted: 03/18/11 05:29 PM ET

Today, March 19, 2011, marks the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The question of whether we need a draft will always be important as long as this country is placing thousands of its young men and women in harm's way.

Based on false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction and involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the unfunded war in Iraq has cost our nation not only $800 billion dollars, but the lives of more than 4,400 brave American patriots. Over 32,000 U.S. soldiers have also been seriously wounded in the war we should not have been in the first place.

It is because of these devastating statistics and the commitment our nation must make to sharing in duty and service that I reintroduced the Universal National Service Act, commonly known as the draft bill. Originally introduced in 2003 after my opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the legislation provides an opportunity for all of our children to be able to say with dignity that they honorably served their nation.

Having a draft does not necessarily mean that everyone called to duty would be required to serve in the Armed forces. Whether that service to our country is in our military, in our schools, in our hospitals, or in our airports, the Universal National Service act would require young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 to commit themselves to two years of national service.

For the civilian service, we wouldn't be starting from scratch, but instead building on the current community service infrastructure that we have through national programs like Americorps or local initiatives like NYC Serve. From helping to rebuild New Orleans, providing security at our nation's ports, or working in areas of extreme poverty in this country, there are plenty of jobs that will not only help our young adults learn about their country, but also provide them with invaluable experiences and training that will enrich their lives. Just like the Peace Corps, but for our nation, the universal national service would a positive bonding experience for an entire generation to give back to their country.

Conscription, when everyone is called to serve, has powered some of our nation's greatest military victories, including WWII. The need for a draft is not a condemnation of our current military force, but a strong belief in equality and that the sacrifices needed to maintain a vibrant economy should be shared by all.

Currently the burden of defending our nation is carried by an increasingly smaller segment of our population. Only 1 percent of the American population currently makes the sacrifice of laying down life and limb for our country.

Far too many are being forced into repeated tours of duty, sometimes as many as six deployments. This repeated combat exposure to our troops is why 25 percent of America's active duty military personnel suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is why the Army's current suicide rate is far above the civilian rate at 22-per-100,000. The rate for the Marine Corps is even higher.

These statistics regarding the well-being of our troops are staggering. We cannot merely stand by as a minor segment of our population make continuous sacrifices on our collective behalf. It is the repeating perils of war that are destroying not just the lives of those brave soldiers, but the fabric of military families at home.

No longer can we continue to make decisions about war without worrying over who fights them. The test for Congress is to require all who enjoy the benefits of our democracy to contribute to the defense and strength of the country. Not just for the lives of the soldiers and families that are affected by our actions, but for the future greatness of our country.

 

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