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Service & Opportunity: A Community Perspective

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview a friend of the show & fellow community partner. This was one of those interviews where we immediately knew we'd need to have a part 2. We talked about so many pertinent things that there was simply not enough time to cover all topics/subjects. Of particular interest was the current push to eliminate NJROTC & ROTC programs from the high-school level. This is a nationwide push and initiative, and East Aurora has the largest NJROTC programs in the country.

Our conversation was especially poignant given the tragedy story of Vanessa Guillen, Shelby Jones, and 24 other Fort Hood personnel who died just this year. The commanding officer of Fort Hood, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt has been removed from his post and an investigation is pending. It is with an unmistakable tragedy that an institution like the United States Army would muster such a lackluster approach and response to the situation. Indeed, if the US military can't protect someone, who can?

Our interview guest is not a veteran of the armed forces but the host of our show is. Many people who are unfamiliar with the rigors of military life can't fully appreciate how bad the incidents at Fort Hood appear. Bases, ports and other military installations have been placed on full lock down or restricted access for less than the loss of life. Misplaced ammunition or an unaccounted for rifle have been cause for investigations with severe consequences. Anyone with an ounce f common sense would certainly find it shocking that a service member could disappear or lose their life, on a military installation, and not prompt such a response.

Our guest agreed with current popular sentiment: NJROTC and other recruitment programs should be removed from schools. Particularly those school systems that serve minority districts or those with large numbers of minority students. It's very simple; if they recruit our kids with reckless abandon, but can't protect them, then why do we need them? Why would we want our children to place their lives inn danger if they aren't respected, protected, or supported? Its not rocket science, and its not a revolutionary thought process either. In our opinion, it is the baseline of expectation that every parent should rest comfortably with.

As we spoke, we reflected personally on our own thoughts, feelings & frustrations. For some of us, military service saved our lives. Some of us were on the road to death, or worse. Some of us had no prospects, no family, no hope, no help and no resources. To be immersed in crime, drugs, street gangs and family violence from a middle school age is to be ill-prepared for the future. Indeed, what future can a young person see for themselves if their present is negative? Short of a miracle, or a wealthy family member, how can a youth from Harvey Illinois, the south side of Chicago or the streets of Aurora ever see Jamaica or Canada? But therein also lies the problem.

If the ONLY opportunity a kid has to escape poverty and have a shot at life is military service, that highlights a community in distress. To have only one hope at a decent life is very depressing, no matter how great that hope is. And that was what we both understood. Military service isn't for everyone. And people shouldn't be relegated to one choice and one choice only. There needs to be more avenues for success and life than simply military service. Our youth need more choices, more prospects & more opportunities. They need the same plethora of choice that kids in Skokie, Hinsdale, Elk Grove Village & Harwood Heights have.

As a veteran, our staff member is appreciative of the experience. It's done good in his life, but his life is not everyone's life. Kids need more opportunities and they need to be protected. Even though we'd rather not see a complete end to military recruitment at the high school level, life means more than "country". We concur with our guest. Robust opportunities, professional & economic investment in our communities of color; these are the hallmarks of a thriving community. That's what true equality looks like.

The "good life" is possible without military service. The mission to deliver that life to our kids is the true battle. And in that battle, we are all soldiers.

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