I serve because I believe national service is the most powerful idea we have to transform America. Through it, we redefine the foundation of citizenship and what we expect from all Americans.
I'm a millennial; at 30 years old, I just barely make the cut. Twelve years ago, when 9-11 happened, I was an 18-year-old college freshman. After the attacks, my initial anger transformed into a profound desire to serve.
I found City Year and AmeriCorps. The next year, I was getting things done in Boston, serving in inner-city middle schools. Looking back, I've seen 6th and 7th graders I worked with -- Irene, Jake and Dawn -- go on to become corps members themselves when they graduated from high school.
After my two years with AmeriCorps, I went back to school and was lucky to end up at Georgetown in Washington DC. In DC, I teamed up with fellow City Year alum Zach Maurin to found ServeNext, now part of ServiceNation.
Although AmeriCorps had grown by 50 percent after 9/11, there were still many more applications than there were opportunities and this initial growth began to see repeated funding cuts, we believed, because of the lack of an organized grassroots constituency beyond the network of national service programs.
So, in the primaries leading up to the 2008 presidential election, we bootstrapped a grassroots campaign led by AmeriCorps alumni to call on the candidates to sign the Presidential Pledge to Expand National Service to record levels. Nine signed, and both Senators McCain and Obama supported our efforts. The candidates' support laid the groundwork for what became the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which we then worked with ServiceNation, Voices for National Service, and AmericaForward to pass.
Shortly after passage of the Serve America Act in 2009, I headed for the nearest Army recruiting station. The desire to serve I felt after 9/11 was still calling me. For most of my adult life, our country has been fighting two wars. On the frontlines of these fights are millennials. 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan will define this generation, and I wanted to make sure I did my part.
General McChrystal often points out that less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the Armed Forces. Shouldn't we as a country expect more of our civilian brothers and sisters to fight the fights that need to be fought at home -- combating education inequity and poverty, responding to natural disaster and protecting the environment -- while our soldiers sacrifice so much overseas? In the Army I discovered the same camaraderie that I found with City Year when you unite a diverse group of Americans to tackle a shared mission. In Afghanistan as a Civil Affairs Team Leader patrolling villages -- meeting with elders and district governors about development projects -- I put to use the skills I learned in AmeriCorps organizing communities.
I've never been more passionate than I am today about our country's need for universal national service -- not mandatory, but socially expected with opportunities for all. There shouldn't be a young person in America who isn't asked where or how he or she served our great country.
General McChrystal has taken the lead by chairing the Franklin Project's Leadership Council, but we can't rely on a few enlightened leaders to make national service a reality. Read the plan and take action to spread the word about national service in your community.