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Carter Asks County Execs to Find New Ways to Work With Service Members and Vets

By Jim Garamone
United States Department of Defense

July 12, 2015 - As the nation’s military adapts new strategies and personnel policies, Defense Secretary Ash Carter today asked counties and communities across America to consider new ways to provide service to troops and veterans.

Carter told the National Association of Counties conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, that as strategies change to keep America safe, personnel policies will change, too. Counties, cities and towns across America will be affected, he said.

“Our men and women don’t come from the Pentagon,” the defense secretary said. “They come from your communities. We recruit from your communities. Our service members and their families live in your communities while they’re serving, including our Guardsmen and reservists. And when they leave military service, they are, once again, in your communities.”

This is happening at a time when fewer Americans have a personal connection to the military, Carter said. From World War II to the advent of the all-volunteer force in 1973, three out of four Americans had a personal connection to the military. That number is now one in three and is likely to go down. Put another way, at the end of World War II, 10 percent of Americans were in the military. Today it is around 1 percent.

Department Seeks Talent

America’s military today is the “finest fighting force the world has ever seen,” he said. People are at the heart of that and attracting the right mix of people moving forward is key to military preeminence in the future.

Attracting and retaining men and women with high-demand talents and high-level skills means moving away from an Industrial Age recruiting and retention model, the defense secretary said.

“To attract and compete for talent in these new generations, we’re trying to build what I call the Force of the Future. We’re pushing to be attractive to this new generation,” Carter said. The military needs to be more geographically diverse, he said. There has to be “more on-ramps and off-ramps to give our people more choices” as DoD brings the personnel system into the 21st century.

“We’re drilling tunnels through the walls that too often separate government and the private sector particularly in scientific and commercial technology areas,” he said. “Because we need America’s brightest minds to contribute to our mission.”

DoD, Community Health Tied to Education

These changes will affect communities across the country, the defense secretary said. He noted that community schools are the wellsprings for future scientists and technology professionals and he urged members of the association to continue the recent emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math programs.

The bottom line is that counties and local communities “are the source of the American military’s enduring strength, because you provide our men and women in uniform the preparation, the care and the purpose they need to defend our country,” he said.

And when their military service is over, they will return to their communities. But even that will change, Carter said.

“Transition out of the military will look different than it did 70 years ago, or, for that matter, 10 years ago,” he said. “It’ll mean that in the future, some might only serve for a time, while others may spend 25 years moving back and forth between national service and other opportunities.”

Service members and their families may spend more time in communities without having to move around as often as they do now, Carter said.

Support Troops by Knowing Them

Each community is different, as are the foundations of preparation, care and purpose, the defense secretary said.

“People from urban areas and rural areas may have different ideas of what their community should look like,” he said. “Still, in a future where each community’s foundation should be different … there should be some elements that they have in common.

“For example, let’s make a future where more Americans nationwide strive not only to support our troops, but to know our troops. Let’s make a future where this is a two-way street where both military and civilian communities contribute to each other,” Carter said.

Embracing service members, veterans and their families also makes good sense for local jurisdictions, he said. When veterans come into communities, “empower them with opportunities to continue leading lives of meaning and purpose,” he told the conference-goers.

“To be clear, they aren’t looking for handouts,” Carter said.

Veterans are 20 percent more likely to give to charities, volunteer 30 percent more hours per year and are three times more likely to join a service or civic organization, the defense secretary said.

“The 9/11 generation volunteered to serve in a time of war, and they have a strong desire to continue making a difference in the world,” he said. “All it takes is finding the right opportunity.”

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