The military is the grandest expression of the belief that anyone can be an American. As retired Marine general and current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly observed in 2010 of his troops, “Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple Americas exist simultaneously depending on one’s race, education level, economic status and where you might have been born.”
The military of “multiple Americas,” however, is disappearing as service becomes a family business. The less diverse our armed forces are, the fewer Americans are exposed to those different than themselves, the more divided our society will become.
The immediate answer to this challenge is to ensure both sides of the civil-military divide have more in common. The military needs to make itself more attractive to a wider swath of American society. Simultaneously, more Americans need to be exposed to military service. Two simple changes recommended by the Bipartisan Policy Center could help broaden the military’s recruiting pool.
First, make registration for the Selective Service universal. Let all 18-year-old Americans, including women, know that, if our nation ever needs them, they could be called upon.
Secondly, as part of that registration process, require them to take an online version of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The results of this test would show young Americans the career opportunities the military offers and help the military identify potential recruits with critical skills.
Few serve, but that is reason for neither pride nor despair. What we can be proud of, and should strive for, is a military that represents all of America.