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Federal group eyes changes to military service, ABA told

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It’s been 58 years since President John F. Kennedy spoke his famous words, and the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is looking for an answer to that question, said Avril Haines, a member of the commission. She spoke at an American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security luncheon on March 21.

The commission, formed by Congress in 2017, has been asked to study whether the nation still needs a military draft and, if so, who should register and how the system could meet modern national security needs. Since a February ruling issued by a federal judge that an all-male military draft is unconstitutional, part of the debate centers on whether women should be required to register for the draft.

Aside from military service, Haines said young people need to know there are public service opportunities for them to consider, such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, YouthBuild, City Year and Teach for America. Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA and deputy national security advisor in the White House, said too few Americans know such public service opportunities exist and there’s no widely held notion of serving the country and what that means.

Paul Lekas, general counsel to the commission, said serving on the commission has been an inspirational experience. “If we can come together and find bipartisan solutions to bring together people in this country … I think that would do enormous good for all of us and for the nation as a whole.”

The commission has held public hearings in 23 cities, and released an interim report on its findings in January, with final recommendations due in 2020. Haines said she’d like to see public service become a campaign issue. “I hope candidates who want to become president will talk about their views on this issue that has the potential to make our communities stronger and our nation safer and ultimately create a better civic society.”

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