By Steven Donald Smith
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2006 – In an effort to help the American people understand why U.S. servicemembers choose to serve their country and what the experience entails, the Defense Department has launched a program it calls "Why We Serve."
"Essentially, Why We Serve is an armed forces style grassroots movement to reconnect with the American people," said Marine Major Matt Morgan, the program's director. "What we want to do is close the gap by allowing the servicemembers to communicate directly with the American people about why it is they do what they do." Beginning next week, 13 servicemembers from across the force will fan out across the country to speak about their military experience.
"We can't rely on the international press to tell our story," Morgan said. "We can't expect them to be communicating the essence of servicemembers' experience on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa." Morgan said the idea originated with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld and Pace felt the best way to communicate with the American people is to send servicemembers to their hometowns when they return from overseas to talk directly to community organizations about their experience.
"Secretary Rumsfeld has said that he sees servicemembers re-enlisting at record rates, young men and women volunteering to go back to combat zones two or three times, officer retention that is beyond anything we've seen," Morgan said. "We need to tell this story” The group of 13 will speak at events ranging from Rotary Club dinners to large university forums. "The remainder of it is more grassroots-type coordination, working with the other programs that we have within public affairs, such as America Support You," Morgan said.
America Supports You is a Defense Department program that helps showcase Americans' support for the men and women of the armed forces and their families. The servicemembers also will participate in upcoming Freedom Walks that are scheduled around the country to remember those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor America's past and present military veterans. The Defense Department's America Supports You program is sponsoring the main Freedom Walk in Washington, D.C., which takes place Sept. 10. Similar independently organized events are scheduled in a growing number of communities from coast to coast.
Morgan said everyone in the pilot group of 13 has been deployed overseas and most are likely to go back. "People don't understand the sacrifices they make on a day-to-day basis. A lot leave family and friends behind because they believe in what they're doing," Morgan said.
The group that is about to embark on the Why We Serve mission is made up of the right mix of people to make Americans understand that military service is more than what they see on television, he said. One of those getting ready to go on the speaking tour is Army Staff Sgt. Paula Newman, who said she joined the military to serve her country. "I grew up saying I was going to join the Army," she said. "I'm glad I did. It has undoubtedly improved my life. I'm proud of what I'm doing."