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National Service Summit preludes Aspen Ideas Festival

Scott Schlafer
The Aspen Times

“A good life is lived in the service of others,” said Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, who spoke at the National Service Summit alongside Barbara Bush, CEO and Co-Founder of the Global Health Corps; Wes Moore, best-selling author and U.S. Army veteran; and award-winning Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

To demonstrate the importance of this event, the Aspen Institute hosted the National Service Summit as the first ever prelude to the Aspen Ideas Festival, which runs today through July 2.

“What threatens and frightens us is a feeling that we are unwilling or unable to take big steps forward,” said retired army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan in 2009. “This time, we won’t do that; universal national service will be a long purposeful stride towards releasing the energy, talent and passion of young Americans to our nation and to each other. The bolder the plan, the more enthusiastic Americans will be to support it.”

McChrystal is the driving figure behind the event and has dedicated his post-military career toward the development of a universal national service for a minimum of one year. He delivered the introduction to the panelists by emphasizing the magnitude and necessity of national service in the 21st century.

“The millennial generation is saying loud and clear: ‘Send us. Let us serve.’”
U.S. Army Gen. Gen. Stanley McChrystal

A critical problem highlighted in the event was not American youths’ unwillingness to give back and serve the country but rather a lack of resources to provide ample opportunities for them to do so. Organizations such as AmeriCorps, Global Health Corps, Teach for America and others are being forced to reject thousands of applicants because of availability. The goal of McChrystal and the National Service Summit is to create enough positions where everyone ages 18 to 28 will have the opportunity to serve if they so desire.

“The millennial generation is saying loud and clear: ‘Send us. Let us serve,’” McChrystal said. “We have a remarkable opportunity now to move away from a safe, easy citizenship that does not ask anything from most citizens but yet demands so much from a tiny few.”

Landrieu discussed the progress of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as an example of how indispensable and beneficial national service truly is. He said New Orleans’s school districts and infrastructure have improved at an amazing rate because of national service organizations sending volunteers and aid.

As an army veteran, Moore highlighted the advantages of participating in national service. He pointed out that 70 percent of today’s jobs are acquired through connections and that national service will help provide connections to those who otherwise would be incapable of making their own.

“The beauty of higher education is your changing networks, friendships and connections. … Participating in national service will provide youth with the necessary social capital to succeed,” Moore said.

McChrystal and the National Service Summit are not aiming to make national service a universal requirement as in Israel or Germany. Their goal is to change the culture and norms of American youth by inspiring them and giving sufficient opportunities to give back through national service.


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