Conversation on National Service

Martha Tomesen

Vietnam War veteran and Augustana alumnus, Major General John Borling, came to campus to discuss national service in the United States on Monday, April 8. The event was held outside on the brew patio, free for all students to attend.

General Borling is the author of “Taps on the Walls,’’ a book about the time of his imprisonment in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, and how he and other inmates would secretly communicate. General Borling has also helped establish and now leads Service Over Self (SOS) America.

The SOS movement is proposing a required one-year long national service for young adults between the ages of 18 and 26. SOS strives to be “nation building’’ in the United States.

“I think military is a net-plus for men, and can be a net-plus for women. From the standpoint of shared values and common experiences, a bit of military service is good. You’ll have a sense of pride [and] a sense of self-esteem that you have done something to serve your country,’’ Borling said.

This service would be mandatory for men and voluntary for women. Those who would participate need to be physically and mentally able to take care of themselves.

Those in the program would be in a support role and would not be expected to serve if there was no demand. Along with service, those involved would be taught interviewing skills, how to build resumes and more.

People who are married, who are in college or who are first-responders are among those who would be exempt from the program.

Moreover, Borling said that he wants undocumented immigrants who serve in the program to become automatic citizens, as well as expunging records of minor offenses from people who serve.

President Bahls doesn’t share Borling’s views, but was still in favor of having the general revisit Augustana and lead a conversation on national service.

“I’m anxious to hear what the general has to say, but I would say that I am not in favor of required national service. I appreciate his public service and that he is thinking about ways to make America better, but my view is that it should be voluntary,’’ Bahls said.

Despite not agreeing with General Borling’s proposal, President Bahls urged students to attend the event.

“He is an American hero. They get to meet General Borling and they can let General Borling know about their opinion, whether they like or don’t like the idea. I think he would certainly like to persuade our students that it is a good thing. We have a good group of critical thinkers here,’’ Bahls said.

Jamie Drapeau, a visiting business analytics and information systems major from the University of Iowa, said, “I am an advocate for this program. I know not everyone is going to want to do it. But if you are interested in volunteering especially, it would be good for people who want to branch out and discover things about themselves. For men, you get that extra discipline – that goes for women as well.’’

Not all students shared the same ideals as Service Over Self.

“It was disappointing. This was something that I wanted to like – something that I thought had a lot of promise. There were logistical parts that the presenter seemed stuck on that I could not understand,’’ junior Taylor Ashby said.

General Borling expected not all students would agree with his proposal, pointing out that people over 50 years old are hugely in favor of the idea and people under generally tend to disagree. The commission’s report of SOS’s proposal is due March 2020.