NationSwell

Service Year: Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal

A four-star general makes the case for national service.

In this episode of NationSwell’s 8-part mini documentary series on service years, retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal shares his personal experience with service — both in and out of uniform.

“Over the past few decades, we’ve come to equate service with military service,” says McChrystal. “In reality, service is much broader: education, healthcare, conservation. I’d like to see us expand that term ‘service members’ or ‘people in service’ as people doing the complete spectrum.”

McChrystal is the chairperson of Service Year Alliance, which is partnering with NationSwell to make a national service year — a paid opportunity to develop real-world skills while solving some of the most pressing challenges facing local communities — a common opportunity for all young Americans.

Service year corps members, including Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and YouthBuild participants, earn modest stipends that are funded by public and private dollars. Occasionally, some members also receive money to pay for school or student loans.

As these programs face potential elimination under the current White House budget proposal, they continue to garner bipartisan support from voters and members of Congress. Local and national leaders, social entrepreneurs and members of the nonprofit and business communities are calling for service years to become a rite of passage for young Americans.

“Federal funding for national service is not where most of the funding comes from, but it’s essential. It is something that precipitates all of the programs moving forward, and so it’s a key part,” says McChrystal. “If the federal government won’t invest in young people — the most critical part of our nation — there’s no point in rebuilding our roads and bridges in America.”

At a time when our communities are deeply divided, studies show that service year alums are more civically engaged. They vote. They volunteer. And they purposely seek out friendships with people they didn’t know growing up.

“In communities across the nation and around the world, tens of thousands of service year corps members are already working to address local needs — making a huge impact on important issues such as education, inequality, opportunity youth, the environment and health,” says Shirley Sagawa, CEO of Service Year Alliance. “Imagine the impact if we unleash the energy and idealism of the next generation of young Americans through a service year.”

NationSwell asks you to join our partnership with Service Year Alliance. Watch the video above. Contact your elected officials and ask them to support a service year. Do one yourself. Together, we can lead a national movement to give young Americans the opportunity to help bridge the divides in our country.