Mandatory service would benefit all Americans

by Mike Heral

I went to basic training twice. Everyone should attend at least once. Its value comes from more than clichés of patriotism and discipline, which can be instilled in a person far before joining the military. I participated in a living classroom yielding critical lessons in education, global civilization and teamwork. Every American must possess those foundations to be successful in the real world. Military service, or an equivalent civil service such as the Peace Corps, should be mandatory for all able-bodied citizens following high school graduation.

Mandatory conscription is likely to raise many objections, especially given America’s love for freedom of choice. One of the main concerns will be the effect this would have on the education of average citizens. However, mandatory service actually makes college life easier. First, a tour of duty supplements pre-existing college sav- ings. Currently, a four-year enlistment pays for four-years of college through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ GI Bill. Adding thousands more to the bill could break the VA budget, but this can easily be offset by increasing initial GI Bill buy-in (cur- rently $1,200), reducing active duty monthly pay, adding an investment option or a combination of the three. It’s more likely students will graduate debt-free following mandatory conscription, which would free our economy of a burden threatening to derail its recovery. Second, military experience gained on the job and traveling throughout the world serves as a valuable primer for academic life. Stodgy subjects such as political science, economics and philosophy take on new life when students understand the variety of social, economic and political systems used by different nations. Otherwise boring com- parative system analysis comes alive when I contrast personal conditions created by Brunei’s monarchy against American free-market representative democracy.

The U.S. continually interacts with worldwide markets. Therefore, it’s important to have a global perspec- tive. I worked multiple times with foreign soldiers and sailors. Universities offer limited opportunities for studying abroad, whereas the military interacts on an annual basis with counterparts from foreign lands. Some service members even live and work overseas. Plunging more U.S. citizens in the pool of global perspective benefits U.S. markets by reducing avoidable delays caused by glitches in customs, and provides entrepreneurs with direct knowledge of worldwide opportunities. It also increases global philanthropy. It’s one thing to ignore a United Nations Children’s Fund commercial regarding starving Somali children, but another to personally observe famine. Odds are a U.S. citizen bearing personal witness to tragedy will be less inclined to pursue policies promoting continued human suffering. I may forget shipmates I served alongside, but I will never forget the sight of a mother prostituting her young daughter on a Philippine roadside.

U.S. businesses would shift from a philosophy of individualism to one celebrating teamwork. Universities would respond by increasing team tasks, such as assigning group speeches in a communications class.

It’s a worthwhile goal for students to learn to divide research tasks, but this pales in comparison to sailors working together to stop shipboard flooding. The former is an exercise meant for a letter grade whereas the latter is a life-or-death scenario designed to keep the ship from becom- ing an artificial coral reef. No matter what any academic curriculum can design for team building exercises, it will not come close to what’s learned in combat. Recently, UT-San Diego photographer Nelvin Cepeda was a guest speaker in my journalism and media studies class. He shared a video of Marines engaged in a firefight, tak- ing fire from three different sides and enemy bullets ricocheting off walls in every direction. Yet the Marines didn’t break down and start firing indiscriminately. They didn’t even flinch from rounds being fired from behind. Instead, they maintained their positions. They knew the enemy would win if even one Marine abandoned his field of fire responsibility.

The social issue of war is better ad- dressed through mandatory conscrip- tion. The War on Terror was the first modern American war fought outside the public eye. It’s easy to dismiss casualties when few know the fallen. It’s also too easy to ignore conflicts droning on long after their purpose expired. Our men and women in uni- form don’t mind anonymity, nor do they publicly question orders. But that doesn’t make it right. We will be less likely to wage indiscriminate warfare when everyone’s sons and daughters are in harm’s way.

Save for parenting, military service is the most important thing I’ve ever done. I have no doubt the ideals, friendships and experiences imparted will serve me well throughout the rest of my life. I also have no doubt mak- ing military service mandatory for all will help make this country stronger and better prepared for its worldwide role.

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