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Leveraging National Service in Iraq and Afghanistan

Leveraging National Service in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Published by John Sarvey
Proposal to leverage national service as a strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan in rebuilding their countries.
Proposal to leverage national service as a strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan in rebuilding their countries.

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Published by: John Sarvey on Feb 22, 2011
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curre nt ly inviti ng edits an d c o mm ent s

Leveraging National Service in Iraq and Afghanistan
By John Hoang Sarvey Civilian national service in the United States has finally begun to get recognition as a key strategy for addressing domestic issues, particularly around education and youth development. Teach for America, City Year, Public Allies, and hundreds of other AmeriCorps programs have been able to document and measure demonstrable impact in critical domestic issues. National service has been able to tap the idealism and energy of tens of thousands of young (and young-at-heart) Americans deployed as teachers, tutors, mentors, and a multitude of other critical roles. They ve transformed schools, raised test scores, run afterschool programs and inspired hundreds of thousands of children and youth. In the process, national service has instilled in AmeriCorps members a deep and enduring sense of civic duty and responsibility that will last a lifetime.
This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.

Comment [js1]: Oops. I first wrote this in late 2009. With the current Congress, GOP members of the house are pushing to eliminate AmeriCorps. I may need to dial back on language about finally begun to get recognition.

Yet for some of our greatest foreign policy challenges we have not (yet) recognized much less leveraged the -- Robert F. Kennedy, addressing university potential of national service. I am not talking about students in Capetown, South Africa (1966) deploying Americans around the world we have an established track record with the Peace Corps. No, I m suggesting the young people of those countries be engaged in national service. I m suggesting that we help those nations leverage national service as a core strategy to accomplish a range of critical goals: developing their infrastructure (both human and physical), developing critical skills and knowledge in their young people, bridging sectarian and tribal divisions, and very importantly, instilling core civic values and a sense of positive nationalism and global awareness. What are some of the key challenges faced in Iraq and Aghanistan? y y y y y y y y High numbers of unemployed young men and women Sectarian and tribal divisions Underdeveloped physical infrastructure Difficulties finding enough recruits for the military and police forces, with sufficient skills and readiness Public corruption and nepotism Underdeveloped civil society/domestic-led NGO sector Underdeveloped civic participation skills and values Unclear opportunities to have a positive civic purpose and mission

As a result of these challenges, the respective governments and militaries of both countries are not as far along as we (or the Iraqi or Afghan people) would like. In addition, high numbers of unemployed young people become prime targets of recruitment by Al Queda, th e Taliban, or corrupt/criminal enterprises. While there are certainly many Iraqi and Afghan soldiers who are skilled, motivated, and valiant, it also appears that some (many) are not. We are very likely providing weapons and training to thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who do not yet have the necessary skills and civic values to be trusted. There are even some cases of young men who enroll, then run away with all the guns and equipment, sell it, and then enroll again a few months later. What if we helped Iraq and Afghanistan to build systems of civilian national service which engaged hundreds of thousands of young men and women. They would be paid a modest stipend and a scholarship upon completion, as are participants of national service in other nations. They would be trained, deployed, and led in helping to meet critical domestic needs in education, youth development, building the domestic NGO sector, economic development and physical infrastructure projects. Imagine a team of IraqiCorps members with 4 Sunnis, 4 Shias, 2 Kurds and perhaps a Christian and Jew as well. They d work side-by-side All people ² especially young people ² need together solving problems and overcoming obstacles in the same eight things: meaning, adventure, service to their nation. They d gain valuable skills in community, power, respect, structure, consensus-building, project planning and management, challenge and opportunity. teamwork, and leadership. They would serve as inspiring role models to young Iraqi children.
² Wayne Meisel, President, The Bonner Foundation
and founder, Campus Outreach Opportunity League

The most powerful strategy for building teamwork among a group of disparate members is to give them a powerful, meaningful, and compelling common purpose. In addition, it is critical that national service programs be designed and implemented with a very strong organizational culture. Participants would be immersed in this strong organizational culture that instilled civic values such as tolerance, idealism, critical thinking and dialogue, sacrifice, discipline, and enthusiasm. It should be a culture which challenges and snuffs out cynicism, negativity, and tribalism over broader community. One or two or three years in national service would better prepare them for military or police service, or for higher education. It would also help to develop a generation of leaders with an instilled civic duty and patriotism to put the common good before private gain. Civilian domestic service would also represent a safer (and more developmentally-appropriate for many) opportunity than immediately joining the military. It is not difficult to imagine that many young Iraqis and Afghans sign up for the military due to lack of other viable opportunities. Some however, may be avoiding the military because of the substantial risk. If given the choice, many might sign up for civilian service, even with the lower pay.

Early in his term as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela placed a call to his good friend President Bill Clinton. He expressed concern about how to rapidly build up the civic capacity and leadership of this newly liberated nation. President Clinton s top advice was for President Mandela to leverage national service. President Mandela heeded that advice and created South Africa s National Youth Service system. He also accepted President Clinton s offer to help South Africa create a City Year program in Johannesburg the first City Year outside the United States and now the largest. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already knows and believes in the power of national service through her relationship to City Year and other AmeriCorps programs. However, perhaps it has not occurred to Secretary Clinton how the idea could be leveraged to achieve foreign policy objectives. We could probably help these countries develop national service for a fraction of cost of the many contracts given to the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater. Perhaps the State Department and Corporation for National and Community Service could contract with various national service nonprofits/NGOs. As a start, perhaps the State Department could commission a study to examine the feasibility (and possibilities) of leverage national service as a chief strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
John Hoang Sarvey is the executive director of the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Prior to that John served as a vice president and executive director with City Year. He can be reached at j.sarvey@neu.edu.

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