On this very day 243 years ago, the U.S. Army was born. Our nation was built on the backs of soldiers who fought for freedom, and for centuries, soldiers have continued to defend those freedoms.
For the last four decades — since 1973 — the soldiers who have raised their right hands and taken the oath of enlistment to support and defend the Constitution have volunteered to do so. This all-volunteer force has transformed the way we work toward peace and stability as a nation.
The U.S. Army is one of the most respected organizations in the world because of its highly trained and educated people.
As the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Seattle, I am responsible for the Army's recruiting efforts across all of Alaska and Washington, as well as parts of Idaho and Oregon. Across nearly 700,000 square miles of American soil, I see amazing young people who want to serve.
Unfortunately, we are challenged with finding enough young Americans who meet our physical, mental and moral requirements, and also want to serve. This is compounded by public misperception.
Even with a large Army base like Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in our backyard and hundreds of Army Reserve soldiers living and serving in our community, about 50 percent of today's youth admit they know little to nothing about the U.S. military.
They don't know the Army will pay for education. They don't know the Army offers housing allowances, health care, retirement, family support and many other benefits well beyond what's normally found in the private sector. They don't know the Army offers more than 150 career opportunities. Nearly every career available in the private sector is available in the U.S. Army.
If they don't understand the opportunities available, they will never consider military service as an option. We are depriving young Americans of an opportunity to develop character and gain skills that will help them throughout their lives.
Not everyone can or should choose the Army as a career path. However, young people deserve a chance to make an informed decision about their future. They deserve to understand every path – work, technical education, community colleges, universities, and yes, the military, too – so they can find the one that best suits their future goals.
I challenge community leaders, educators and parents across Alaska to learn more about your Army. Don't make assumptions or allow misperceptions about service or the quality of our soldiers. Take the time to get to know the soldiers and veterans in your community — learn about what they do and how their service has impacted their lives. I think you will be very surprised with what you find.
To have the best soldiers serving our nation as, our Army and our communities need to work together to educate and encourage youth to learn about military service and consider it as a career option.
Help celebrate this year's Army birthday by connecting with local soldiers and veterans to learn more about what he Army has to offer youth in our community.
Lt. Col. Brian Fleming serves as commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion–Seattle.
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