Mandatory National Service Would Create a More Equal Society, Former NSA Rice Says

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Susan Rice
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice arrives to speak at the J Street 2018 National Conference on April 16, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A reported possible Joe Biden vice presidential pick this week reiterated her support for a program that would require all Americans to dedicate time in service to their country, at least in a civilian capacity.

Susan Rice, former United Nations ambassador and national security adviser, said she believes a mandatory national service program would help to heal some of the nation's fractures along racial and economic lines. Speaking at an event organized by the congressionally created National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, Rice described her vision for this requirement.

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"I wish we could have mandatory national civilian service in this country, so that every kid between the ages of 18 and 21 spent six or 12 months in national service, whether it's laying broadband or building infrastructure, or rehabilitating inner-city schools and libraries," she said. "The reason I think service is so important is, not only is it creating economic opportunity in training and skills for those who may not otherwise have them, but most importantly, it's teaching us to understand and to know each other as Americans across different geographic, racial, socioeconomic lines, as part of one nation and one community."

Rice noted that, in her family, national service was "in the breakfast food" growing up -- her great-grandfather had been a slave who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, and her grandfather was one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black Air Force pilots who served in World War II.

"As powerful as that experience was and as proud as he was of it, he was also very tortured by it, because he served in a segregated military, fighting on behalf of freedom for everybody but his own people," Rice said of her grandfather. While military segregation is over, she added, psychological divisions remain.

"And so to bridge those gaps is really a real core part of our national mission. ... If we live together, if we work together, if we know each other as human beings, it's a whole lot harder to hate each other."

Rice also said she supports adding civics education questions to the SAT and ACT, standardized tests that factor into college admission.

The commission, which released its final report March 25 following years of research and hearings, recommended, among other things, that women for the first time in U.S. history be required to register with the Selective Service System for a possible draft, and that civilian national service opportunities be expanded.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who also spoke at the event, said he supports requiring women to register for the draft. "If they can serve in the military, if they can put their lives on the line, there's no reason why they shouldn't be part of the Selective Service System, if we need them in a national emergency," he said.

Multiple commission recommendations are expected to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021; it's not yet clear whether the bill will include a provision requiring women to register for the draft.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Related: Women Should Have to Register for the Draft, Congressional Commission Says

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