I am going to expand on my previous calls for national service with specifics that may answer some of the reasonable objections I have heard.
The program I envision would be mandatory and last the 18th and 19th years complete. The possibility of an "opt in" program of service with rewards of education etc. is a viable option just not my choice. Armed Liberal points out that there is very little real class-mixing in this country and I also consider the forced-association aspect of this beneficial for all and for our society. It would have a military path as well as a Peace Corps path. The system would compel a minimum level of service but would offer increased rewards for achievement.
The Draftee Military
The primary objection I hear is unwilling draftees would lower professionalism and it is perfectly valid with reminders of the Vietnam era. I won't belabor the point that the draftee army of WWII did OK, I accept and understand that our greatest fighting force in history is made up of volunteer patriots who are amazingly professional. I don't want to do anything to dilute that. I want to use it to pump up the rest of our increasingly useless society. Nothing seems to motivate Americans but ask them who they admire and it is the troops. They wish they would get up off their asses and do what the military does and we can use that to get them to help us.
By creating two paths I have removed the biggest fear of our military professionals, the infusion of a bunch of dirty, nasty, patchouli-smelling hippies into the mix who will get everybody killed. No freakin' way. Those guys all sign up for the agricultural work in Peru or the cultural outreach gig in Kathmandu on the Peace Corps side. They get no where near anything important. Now most of the draftees are going to be decent people who can actually carry their own weight and some will jump in and seriously kick some ass. No one would be assigned to a combat arms unit who did not specifically volunteer for that duty and would have to pass every bit of training and testing required to be there. The military has many specialized technical fields that would teach skills and provide experience transferable to civilian endeavors for the rest.
The Sweetness & Light Corps
It is easy to be skeptical of a large government organization tasked with doing good. The very thought repulses me, but it must be contemplated for my cunning plan to work. Ideally our State Department would be marginally useful in building a positive image of the US or decent relations with people who ought to think better of us. Sadly No. My time in Special Forces consisted of quite a lot of hearts and minds work and in many cases my team was the only Americans many of these people would ever see. They tend to have a fairly decent impression if you helicopter in a field hospital and give them what is likely the only real health care they will ever get. I am not a medic and certainly not a Dentist, but after a very abbreviated (20 min.) train up I pulled 53 teeth in one day in the Philippines. They chew on raw sugar cane from birth and tooth decay is rampant. If you've ever had a tooth ache for any period of time, consider how someone who has had multiple rotten teeth for 10 years or more views the Americans who made his head stop screaming at him.
Right now the entire world has the US on speed dial for major natural disasters. We are there and we can support ourselves and bring the most advanced medical and humanitarian assistance possible. One of the most horrifying things I better ever see was the aftermath of a tropical cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1989. It was as devastating as the recent Tsunami killing between 250k and 500k people in a much smaller area. We came from Okinawa and US helicopters and planes from Korea began immediately sending aid. After almost a week the first reps from the UN came in. We knew this because they bought all the local aircraft we had been using to channel food, water and medicine to give aerial joy rides to UN poobahs who would fly over and tut tut, before heading back to the nearest 4 star accommodations, however far that may be. If i had the option of handing over relief and rebuilding operations over to US peacemongers made up of my neighbor's dipstick pacifist weasel kid rather than the corrupt and useless UN, well sign me up for some of that.
Like any brilliant re-alignment of our society, this is a long shot. But I can say that I would much prefer an America where every smart-mouthed, know-it-all, punk ass kid had to actually earn his spurs at 18. And I'm sure we could reward those who serve as professionals for helping everyone to have some skin in the game.