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Are you one of those fellow citizens who believe our country is on a perilous path? It’s not just the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s income inequality greater than our nation has experienced in the past 150 years if not longer. It’s the lingering racism exposed by the murder of George Floyd. It’s the looming threat of climate change. And more.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the divisiveness that surrounds us no matter where we live in the USA. We see it in our streets and on our devices and in our mailboxes.

The United States is divided more than ever in my lifetime, which began in 1941 a few weeks before Pearl Harbor launched our country on the long road to victory in World War II. There must be ways of making our country as united as it was then and thereby make it a happier place for our children and grandchildren.

In 2017, the U.S. Congress created the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service in the belief that beefing up our culture of service could be one way of making us more united. The impetus for creating this Commission was the issue of whether women should be drafted as well as men. Wise members of the Congress decided to study the issue comprehensively to include civilian service in the form of volunteer activities organized by NGOs, churches and companies (national service), and employment at all levels of government (public service).

The Commission issued its final report on March 25 and had a virtual rollout event on June 25. The report and videos of the rollout can be found on the Commission’s website: https://inspire2serve.gov

The Commission was diligent in seeking out opinions about service across the country. It visited 42 cities in 22 states, held 14 public hearings, and consulted with more than 530 organizations. Its report contains 164 recommendations. Together, they represent “a bold and integrated new approach to service.” Prominent among them is including women in the draft. The most ambitious recommendation is to implement measures that will have 5 million Americans beginning a year of voluntary national service by 2031, with one million of these supported with funding from the Federal budget.

Taken together, our recommendations offer a revolutionary and inclusive approach to service for Americans, beginning with comprehensive civic education and service learning starting in kindergarten, service-year opportunities so ubiquitous that service becomes a rite of passage for millions of young adults, and new and revitalized service options for adults of any age, background, or experience. 

What is the relevance for Rappahannock County?

I am only a part-time resident, but I have spent more than a third of my life in service. I’ve seen a lot of the USA and I’ve seen a lot of the world. I believe Rappahannock County can benefit as much as any other community in the United States from the kind of broad, voluntary, service commitment proposed by the Commission.

The main beneficiaries will be the county’s youth. They will have a vastly greater set of opportunities to live in other communities, meet different kinds of people, perform work that normally provides above-average satisfaction, and hone skills of value for employment and family life. 

Other county residents will benefit from having more help for elderly or sick or disabled members of their families. They will benefit from having more teachers in the schools, more after-school sports and arts programs, more hands to fight wildfires and rebuild after house fires. 

It is hard to imagine any problem in the county that could not be addressed more effectively with full-time, dedicated, motivated volunteers within the kind of federal, state, and local government support system proposed by the Commission, including contributions from the profit-making business sector. 

To get there, however, our representatives in the U.S. Congress will have to pass the laws and appropriate the funds required to implement the Commission’s recommendations. The residents of Rappahannock County will be winners if all of the candidates on the ballots for the elections ahead this year are committed to implementing the Commission’s vision of military, national, and public service.

— Lex Rieffel served in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Peace Corps, and U.S. Treasury Department. He retired last December as a scholar at the Brookings Institution and currently is a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center. He’s had a home in Woodville for 40 years.

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