Nation can learn from military, Brokaw says|
by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs
11/23/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al -- Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series on Tom Brokaw's visit to Maxwell Nov. 14. The first article appeared in the Nov. 18 Dispatch.
There is a lesson to be learned from the "greatest generation" - a unified dedication to country and fellow Americans can make a difference. This was a topic NBC journalist Tom Brokaw discussed after accepting an honorary doctorate degree from the Air University Nov. 14.
He told the service members in the audience they represent what is great about the nation, a group comprised of every socio-economic, geographic and race united in support of a common mission.
After learning so much from "the greatest generation," those who fought in and supported the troops during World War II, he knows the country today has much to learn from the military and must be thankful for its sacrifice.
"When (service members) come home, their wars will not be over," he said, referring to mental, physical, educational and financial hardships.
Unlike during World War II, "Nothing has been asked of those of us not in uniform," he said, no additional taxes or burdens. He said he finds a disparity between those who volunteered to serve their country and those who reap the benefits.
"We simply have to close the gap between how civilians lead their lives and those in uniform, you lead your lives and what is expected of you," he said. He believes the country needs to be knitted together and become more than the sum of their parts.
"We're at a crossroads in this country," he said. "Too many people have lost confidence in the fundamental institutions of American life."
During the ceremony, Master Sgt. Tara Williams from the Barnes Center asked Brokaw about the greatest changes he's witnessed in America since becoming a journalist.
Brokaw recalled another time when people gathered together for a cause in support of the greater good: the civil rights movement.
"We are a far different country," he said, because of Dr. Martin Luther King and others liberating the nation from the shackles of segregation. "We are all better off for what he did."
"He managed to do it without a cell phone," he said. King led with the power of his faith, his faith in America and belief in the rule of law.
Williams said, after the ceremony, she was surprised Brokaw would answer with the civil rights movement, when he could have discussed American super power era, the industrial age, space exploration and advances in medicine and technology.
"I realized that most of the major events I had considered were due to the contribution of all races, and without equality and everyone having a voice and opportunity, such advances would not have been possible," she said.
Williams said she filtered history through her perspective as someone born in the 1970s, in a time of relative equality.
"I was focusing on the rights and benefits I have, more than the struggle, dedication and sacrifice it took to get them," she said. "Brokaw's response proved to be very thought-provoking - reviving ideals and principles that I had not forgotten but had begun to take for granted."
This conversation is one Brokaw is having across the nation.
"We need to pause for a moment in this country, take stock of where we've been, where we are and where we want to get to next," he said.
In his latest book, "The Time of Our Lives: A Conversation about America," he encourages people to raise the bar on public service, and laments that there are few opportunities for the generation of twenty-somethings entering the workforce.
One of his plans is for public-service academies, three-year programs, asking private-sector representatives to sponsor education to raise the standard of a commitment in this country to the greater good.
After he was embedded with Special Forces and 10th Mountain division, he saw resistance in the faces of Afghans, who were frustrated with the guns. "We need to put another face on America," he said, "what I like to think of as the diplomatic Special Forces."
Students would expand their skill set, develop a sense of mission and help people at home and around the world. "National security is in everyone's interest," he said. "They relieve those of you who are in uniform of winning hearts and minds across the world."
Though the millennials are the best-educated generation yet, the United States lags behind other nations in the quality of its education.
"Education will be the currency of the 21st century," he said. Asian countries are far advanced than American children, both in education and dedication to learn. "This is the battleground of the 21st century."