Read this oped by Commission Chairman Joe Heck.
On Monday, the nation observed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. From coast to coast, Americans from all walks of life stepped forward to participate in volunteer service activities to strengthen their communities and address challenges we face locally and at the national level.
This uplifting day of service is a window to our nation’s potential for Americans, particularly young Americans, to heed the call to serve not only once a year but as a way of life. At a time when far too much of our national dialogue centers on what people get from government, the Day of Service should cause us to reflect on what America can accomplish when people give their time and talents to their fellow citizens for the common good.
These sentiments are at the core of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Created by Congress, the commission will embark on an ambitious effort to explore ways to foster a greater ethos of military, national and public service among our nation’s citizens, especially youths, in order to strengthen American democracy. We hope to ignite a national conversation — a movement — that will lead, ultimately, to every American being inspired and eager to serve.
The commission holds its launch event Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C. Over the next several months, the commission intends to travel the country, beginning with a public meeting in February in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There, and throughout our travel across the country, we intend to listen to the American public, and learn from those who serve — and who want to serve — to determine how best to instill a strong spirit of service and identify barriers to service. Equipped with input from the public and experts alike, the commission will make recommendations to Congress, the president, and the American people on putting an atmosphere of service into action.
As the commission commences its work, I offer two principles that should form the foundation of a service movement. First, a truly comprehensive movement should leverage the diverse skills, abilities and passions of Americans. We must tap into the unique talents of all Americans, particularly in areas of critical need — areas such as health care, technology, science, education and foreign languages. Our government cannot answer all of our problems, nor should it. Rather, we should spur citizens to bolster areas of society where government either has fallen short or simply does not have the resources to be successful.
Second, a service movement must be, above all else, for all Americans. So, we should make all Americans aware, especially young Americans, that there is a role for them regardless of their gender, race, education level, socioeconomic status or skill set. By demonstrating that they can make a meaningful difference around the corner or around the globe, all Americans will feel empowered to answer the call of service and will realize Dr. King’s teaching that “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”
From a young age, I have been privileged and honored to serve in many capacities — in the state legislature and Congress, as a physician specializing in emergency medicine, as a community volunteer in support of public safety agencies, and as a military officer on active duty and as a member of the Army Reserve. As the commission engages with the public, I hope to share what I have learned in all these endeavors and convey how essential a life of service can be personally and for our communities and country.
Our nation is at its best when we are striving toward shared goals with a common vision. Bringing more people into a service movement thatprioritizes security, leverages diverse skills, and draws individuals from every slice of American life will provide more manpower to achieve our shared goals, our national security interests, and ultimately strengthen American democracy.
Dr. Joe Heck is chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and represented Nevada’s 3rd District in the House of Representatives from 2011-2017.