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Gen. McChrystal Calls for Universal National Service in “The Wall Street Journal”

May 30, 2013

On May 29, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by former US Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal making the case for universal national service. This idea first took root from a discussion McChrystal had with CBS anchor Bob Schieffer at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. McChrystal’s call for an increased committment to service led to the creation of the The Aspen Institute Franklin Project, a new venture established to marshal a voluntary civilian counterpart to US military service.

On June 24-25, 2013, more than 200 leaders from around the country will gather to discuss an action plan at the inaugural National Service Summit in Aspen, CO. The summit, part of the Franklin Project’s initiative to increase Americans’ engagement to serve their community and country, will act as the lead-in event to the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival.

Below, McChrystal explains the Franklin Project:

In his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, he proposes increasing national support for young people to serve their country:

Universal national service should become a new American rite of passage. Here is a specific, realistic proposal that would create one million full-time civilian national-service positions for Americans ages 18-28 that would complement the active-duty military—and would change the current cultural expectation that service is only the duty of those in uniform.

At age 18, every young man and woman would receive information on various options for national service. Along with the five branches of the military, graduates would learn about new civilian service branches organized around urgent issues like education, health care and poverty. The positions within these branches would be offered through AmeriCorps as well as through certified nonprofits. Service would last at least a year.

McChrystal goes on to say that the demand for national service positions already exists:

More than most Americans realize, the demand to serve already exists. In 2011, there were nearly 600,000 applications to AmeriCorps—a program with only 80,000 positions, only half of which are full time. The Peace Corps received 150,000 requests for applications but has funding for only 4,000 new positions each year. This gap represents democratic energy wasted and a generation of patriotism needlessly squandered. 

We’ll be following as the action plan for the Franklin Project unfurls at the National Service Summit and beyond. Check our blog for more coverage and follow the conversation on Twitter @AspenInstitute and Facebook/AspenInstitute.