Americans have narrowly defined the meaning of “service member” because of the belief that paying taxes and voting completes the responsibilities of a citizen, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said on Thursday.
“I think it’s unfortunate. I think we’ve allowed it to become very narrowly associated with people in uniform, when in fact, when you think about serving, it’s doing something for a cause or people bigger than yourself,” McChrystal said.
The retired four-star general discussed his involvement with ServiceNation, a national campaign to promote service among young Americans and returning veterans, during an exclusive msnbc interview. This week marked the 4-year anniversary of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that reauthorizes and expands service programs.
The country needs to build a cultural expectation of service measured at a high level.
“I think the big thing about service is less about what you accomplish serving than what it does for the individual and what it does for the generation,” McChrystal said.
McChrystal served as the former commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command. In 2009 he became the top commander in Afghanistan, but resigned the following year.
The country needs to give the young generation an opportunity and encouragement to serve in programs such as AmeriCorps, McChrystal said.
AmeriCorps has the potential for 140,000 positions, but there are less than 80,000 available because of Congressional cuts and a lack of energy to expand the program, said Zach Maurin, co-founder and executive director of ServeNext.org and graduate of AmeriCorps. Last year, more Americans applied for national service than ever before, but 85% of the applicants were denied acceptance into the program.
Leaders in Washington have not fulfilled their promise from four years ago to grow AmeriCorps each year to 250,000 members, Maurin said.
“The things that you contribute to, you value more. So if you contribute more to your nation, I think you have a greater sense of responsibility to it forever,” the general said.
In a separate interview on Morning Joe McChrystal expanded on the importance to urge young Americans to spend a year giving back to the nation.
“I think we’ve got a young generation with an extraordinary appetite and energy to do this,” he said on the show. “What we need to do is give them an opportunity…to tie them to the nation.”
Citizens can contribute their services to other sectors with needs, such as education and healthcare.
“If we give the young generation opportunity to serve, they’ll get to know each other better, they’ll have a different sense of responsibility,” he said. “What we really want is people to feel like they have some expectation to contribute.”
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Below is McChrystal’s “Making Things Happen” segment that aired Thursday on Morning Joe.