By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2006 – Thirteen servicemembers recently returned from deployments in the Middle East will fan out across the country beginning today to share their experiences and motivation for serving in uniform as they launch the Defense Department's new "Why We Serve" program. The program has one simple goal: to help connect returning military members with the general public and give them an opportunity to tell their personal stories, explained Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
The servicemembers, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, will travel the country through mid-October, sharing their experiences and motivations for serving with groups ranging from Chambers of Commerce to Rotary clubs to grassroots organizations to schools to media outlets. They're hitting the streets, many starting in their own hometowns, with no DoD-generated "talking points" or packaged speeches -- just their own thoughts to express in their own words, Barber said.
"The goal is that they will go out on the road to different venues nationwide to tell their story," she said. "Why did they choose to serve the military? What did they do in Iraq or Afghanistan? And why are they are serving our country?" Barber said she hopes the effort helps connect troops returning from overseas deployments with the American public and promotes understanding about what motivates them to serve. "It's an educational campaign," she said. "We are educating the citizens of this country about why people choose a different path and why they choose to serve this country."
Although the American public stands solidly behind its servicemembers - as evidenced by the success of DoD's "America Supports You" program - the new Why We Serve effort is designed to create a more personal connection, Barber explained. "You just can't beat face-to-face communication," she said, and that's exactly what the Why I Serve program will promote. The public will get a chance to shake hands with the troops, talk with them and ask questions about their experiences and see their photos. "And that bond can only be developed in one-on-one, real communication," Barber said.
The program has no political agenda, she emphasized. It's not designed to sway public opinion about the war on terror, but rather is simply to give people insight into their men and women in uniform. Why We Serve isn't a recruiting campaign, either, Barber said, although she acknowledged that it could have that effect. "Will some people hear what these men and women have to say and be motivated and inspired to consider the military? Of course. How could you not?" Barber said. "But that is not the purpose of the program. It's an educational campaign."
Ultimately, Barber said, she hopes the exchange benefits the audiences as well as the participants themselves. "For audiences, I would like them to walk out of that room and say, 'How fortunate we are to live in a country where men and women volunteer to defend freedom at any cost,'" she said. "And I would like our military members to walk away from the experience feeling renewed in their commitment to defend this country because of the interaction they have had with the citizens of this country. "Why We Serve is really about telling the story of our military," she said. "And we think that is going to be very powerful."
Although the program initially will run through mid-October, Barber said DoD could expand it in the future.