In 1960 President John F. Kennedy told the American people, Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
No president has made a similar statement since probably because theyve been afraid of the answer.
That came to mind recently when an obviously frustrated American soldier in Iraq was interviewed on television. Now serving his third tour of duty, he challenged Americans to support the troops.
And I dont mean putting a magnet on your car, he said pointedly. Ribbons and cookies from home dont mean much. We need help.
The soldier went on to ask all eligible men and women to join the military. He asked parents to encourage military service for their children.
America has an all-volunteer military. It sounds good, but there arent that many volunteers. Fewer than 1 percent of eligible Americans enlist in the military.
The Army has been forced to increase enlistment bonuses while relaxing age, weight and educational requirements for service just to meet recruiting goals. Even those with some criminal records are now welcomed by the Army.
There was a time when military service was truly respected. Men wanted to do their service and employers rewarded them later with jobs. Today its education thats valued in the workplace, which is why most young people head off to college rather than the military.
American leaders could at least make an attempt at stemming that tide by making military service a priority but that wont happen. Thats because they would have to encourage service, and sacrifice, in their own families.
Only one of the 535 members of Congress, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, has had a child in the war and only half a dozen others have sons and daughters in the military. Virginia Sen. James Webb, himself a decorated Vietnam veteran, had a son in Iraq before he took office.