ServeNext.org Blog

Clinton and Obama emphasize opportunities for civilian service at Las Vegas debate

Posted by aaronjmarquez on January 16, 2008

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With the once-crowded Democrat field now being whittled down, fewer Presidential candidates are now able to address more issues. National Service, a topic that was previously touched upon at the debates by U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) was addressed in Las Vegas last night by the leading contendors for their party’s nomination.

U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was the first to share her thoughts with moderator Tim Russert, the voters of Nevada, and those watching live across the country:

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I’ll start with you. The volunteer Army, many believe, disproportionate in terms of poor and minority who participate in our armed forces.

There’s a federal statute on the books which says that, if a college or university does not provide space for military recruiters or provide a ROTC program for its students, it can lose its federal funding.

Will you vigorously enforce that statute?

CLINTON: Yes, I will. You know, I think that the young men and women who voluntarily join our all-volunteer military are among the best of our country.

I want to do everything I can, as president, to make sure that they get the resources and the help that they deserve. I want a new, 21st-century G.I. Bill of Rights so that our young veterans can get the money to get to college and to buy a home and start a business.

And I’ve worked very hard, on the Senate Armed Services Committee, to, you know, try to make up for some of the negligence that we’ve seen from the Bush administration.

You know, Tim, the Bush administration sends mixed messages. They want to recruit and retain these young people to serve our country and then they have the Pentagon trying to take away the signing bonuses when a soldier gets wounded and ends up in the hospital, something that I’m working with a Republican senator to try to make sure never can happen again.

CLINTON: So I think we should recognize that national service of all kinds is honorable and its essential to the future of our country. I want to expand civilian national service.

But I think that everyone should make available an opportunity for a young man or woman to be in ROTC, to be able to join the military and I’m going to do everything I can to support the men and women in the military and their families.

Immediately following, U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who released a comprehensive National Service plan last month, was asked the same question.

RUSSERT: Will you vigorously enforce a statute which says colleges must allow military recruiters on campus and provide ROTC programs?

OBAMA: Yes. One of the striking things, as you travel around the country, you go into rural communities and you see how disproportionally they are carrying the load in this war in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan.

OBAMA: And it is not fair. Now, the volunteer Army, I think, is a way for us to maintain excellence. And if we are deploying our military wisely, then a voluntary army is sufficient, although I would call for an increase in our force structure, particularly around the Army and the Marines, because I think that we’ve got to put an end to people going on three, four, five tours of duty and the strain on families is enormous. I meet them every day.

But I think that the obligation to serve exists for everybody, and that’s why I’ve put forward a national service program that is tied to my tuition credit for students who want to go to college. You get $4000 every year to help you go to college.

In return, you have to engage in some form of national service. Military service has to be an option.

OBAMA: We have to have civilian options as well. Not just the Peace Corps, but one of the things that we need desperately are people who are in our foreign service who are speaking foreign languages can be more effective in a lot of the work that’s going to be require that may not be hand-to-hand combat but is going to be just as critical in ensuring our long-term safety and security.

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