Editor's note: This essay is excerpted from the new Hoover Press book, Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military.
In April 2011, just over forty years after the Stanford University faculty voted to kick the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program off campus, the Faculty Senate voted in favor of inviting ROTC programs back. The vote followed a yearlong process of study and heated debate that engaged a wide array of student groups, faculty, and the university administration in conversations over issues such as the military’s inclusiveness and the academic rigor of ROTC programs. Faculty luminaries such as former secretary of defense William Perry, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and historian David Kennedy led the push to reconsider and reinvite ROTC to campus, while student groups such as Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) and Stanford Says No to War (SSNW) led the opposition to reintegration.
The result of the 1970 vote to remove ROTC from Stanford was ostensibly due to concerns over whether the academic rigor of ROTC’s military science classes was sufficient to merit the granting of university credit, but it came in the larger context of the Vietnam War and the broad antimilitary sentiment it inspired amongst the students and many faculty members. Considering the vehemence of the antiwar protesters, who torched both the Naval ROTC building and the university president’s office in 1969, it would have been shocking if the university had maintained its support for the program.
As Stanford students at the time of the most recent ROTC controversy, we noticed a phenomenon that distinguished this debate from what we knew of the Vietnam-era environment: while a few students passionately opposed inviting ROTC back, most students did not share their zeal, and most of the discussion among the faculty and administration focused not on whether to invite the services back, but on how to make it work. Somewhere in the previous decades, the default position of the university and its students had shifted from opposition to engagement with the military. The proximate cause of this shift in campus opinion was the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law, which barred homosexuals from serving in the military and was often invoked to justify excluding the military from college campuses on the grounds that DADT constituted illegal discrimination. The law’s repeal lent momentum to the nascent push for a reconsideration of ROTC and Stanford’s relationship with the military and also precipitated similar discussions at Harvard, which was to welcome back ROTC at around the same time.
While DADT’s repeal made possible Stanford’s formal reinvitation of ROTC by eliminating a major source of discrimination in the military, it cannot explain the broader feeling around campus, particularly among the faculty and administration, that engagement with the military would be good for both the military and the university. Even some students who were personally and ideologically close with those opposed to ROTC’s return spoke in favor of it as bringing a diverse and underrepresented perspective to campus. Speaking before the Faculty Senate, a student representative to that body noted that she “[knew] little to nothing about military lifestyles” and that “most of [her] knowledge of the military came from watching Pearl Harbor. That is not okay.” She went on to argue that “military perspectives have been invisible on this campus” and that allowing ROTC back could “humanize the people who fight our wars.”
Four decades on from Stanford’s expulsion of ROTC, much has changed in our nation’s civil-military relations, yet the stereotype of young people—especially those at elite universities—as antiwar radicals still persists in some quarters. All the more surprising, then, that when the student body voted on whether to support the Faculty Senate’s decision to invite ROTC back, those in favor won a plurality of the vote. The shift in opinions towards the military in the Stanford case highlights the need to update our understanding of how millennials view the military. The survey data collected for this book provide an excellent opportunity to explore empirically what millennials think of the military and what experience and knowledge they have of it.
As the United States military begins its final drawdown from Afghanistan and reassesses its strategy and legacy in Iraq, millennials will begin to witness the end of a period that for most has comprised the majority of their lifetimes. This age group has, after all, come to be known as the 9/11 generation, and rightly so: young Americans between 18 and 29 have made the transition into adulthood during the single longest period of continuous war in American history. They are as accustomed to news stories of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the war on terror as they are to stories of perhaps all other foreign-policy issues combined. A significantly greater portion of their tax dollars has gone towards the wars in the Middle East than to federally funded higher education subsidies (that is, Pell Grants). As of 2011, the number of countries with some form of US military presence was up to nearly 150.
And yet there is an inherent contradiction in the lives of millennials: despite growing up in an age of continuous war, this generation is broadly unfamiliar with the military, its culture, its basic structure, and its function. Millennials do not exhibit the same open antagonism towards service members that many of their parents or grandparents might have during the Vietnam era, yet neither do many of them understand the difference between a sailor, a soldier, an airman, and a Marine. They understand that the military is a very hierarchical organization but may not be able to explain the difference between a second lieutenant and a lieutenant colonel. When they interact with service members or are asked their opinions of the military and its role in American foreign policy, then, they may not appreciate how much autonomy and responsibility an enlisted “grunt” may actually have had while deployed to an Afghan village, or how little influence even a high-ranking officer may have had in planning the war in Iraq. Without understanding the basics of military structure and culture, millennials are liable to underappreciate the positive contributions of some service members, misattribute blame for failures to others, and, overall, fundamentally misconceive the nature of the military and its relationship with civilian policymakers and civil society.
In this chapter, we will argue that this disconnect is largely a function of a lack of awareness and exposure. Using survey data collected for this volume by YouGov for James Mattis and Kori Schake, we will outline and analyze the statistics that underlie this dynamic. Throughout this analysis, we will also offer observations from our own experiences as students at Stanford University teaching student-initiated courses on civil-military relations and leading a group of students to the United States Naval Academy and Washington DC. We conclude by offering a list of policies that can be adopted to bring millennials closer to their peers in the military. Underlying this chapter is a sincere optimism on both our parts: there is an openness among millennials to greater familiarity with the US military, belying claims that millennials generally want to distance themselves from America’s largest institution. The reality is that most millennials simply lack the information and experience necessary to understand the military.
Using the data, which breaks down public attitudes towards the military by age, socioeconomic status, race, and various other categories, we make two broad observations. First, millennials generally trust the military and its people. Though they disagree with a number of specific policies, the military leadership is viewed far more favorably by millennials than political leaders are. Millennials also have a high opinion of veterans’ work ethic and see the military as providing opportunities for the poor and minorities. Second, millennials are not knowledgeable about the military’s basic characteristics. They dramatically overestimate its size, are not familiar with the myriad roles service members may play outside of combat, and frequently respond with uncertainty to other factual questions, suggesting a self-awareness about their lack of familiarity.
A Trusted Institution?
One of the primary conclusions we draw from the YouGov data is that millennials exhibit some skepticism about the US military as an institution while showing notable respect for men and women in uniform. We see this distinction between supporting the troops and supporting the military as an institution in questions of policy and of trust in military messaging. A majority of millennials believes the military’s public portrayal of the progress made in the war in Afghanistan is either “very” or “somewhat” inaccurate, while just one in five millennials thinks it is “mostly” accurate, and only 1 percent believe it is “completely” accurate.
With respect to overall military pay, 33 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds favor increasing military pay, while only 6 percent favor decreasing it (57 percent believe it should be kept the same). A plurality of millennials believe enlisted service members are taking a pay cut, implying a recognition of the pecuniary sacrifice they made in enlisting, or perhaps a belief that troops are high-quality private-sector job candidates. However, no other category of the military budget addressed in the survey was received this favorably, with support for increasing the operations and training budget coming in second at only 14 percent. When asked about overall defense spending, only 12 percent of millennials think it should be increased, while 50 percent think it should be decreased, and a similar pattern holds for the military operations budget, which 50 percent of millennials believe should be decreased.
Millennials’ views also clash with military policies on “social” issues, with 75 percent of young people supportive of allowing homosexuals to serve in the military and a majority disagreeing either “somewhat” or “strongly” with excluding women from the infantry. Despite the furor over these topics and resistance to changes from within the military, though, only 41 percent of millennials believe the military’s treatment of women and homosexuals is unfair, lower than any other generation (CM1T 43). Likewise, 45 percent of millennials have confidence in the meritocratic nature of the military hierarchy. These findings are especially interesting in light of the public discussions over DADT and sexual assault and the media coverage these issues have received. Though millennials are substantially more progressive on these issues than the military as an institution, the data suggest that their faith in the military as basically fair is resilient, even in the face of policies that run counter to their principles.
Millennials are not militaristic, and do not, as a single group, “put the military on a pedestal.” Though 60 percent believe veterans are harder working and more reliable than the rest of society, millennials do not believe that they should be privileged over more qualified applicants in private-sector hiring (CM1T 48). Millennials are also the only demographic of which a majority does not support raising taxes to provide veterans with “the best health and retirement benefits” (CM1T 47). But focusing on these issue-specific disagreements risks missing the proverbial forest for the trees.
Forty percent of millennials believe the president should manage only the broad objectives of war, leaving the details to the generals, in line with classic theories of civil-military relations. Nearly half of millennials believe that military leaders share the values of the American people, compared to only 12.5 percent who believe that political leaders do (CM2T 16, 17). Pluralities of millennials believe the military provides more opportunity for the poor and for immigrants than the rest of American society, and millennials are more likely than any other age group to believe that the military is more progressive than the rest of society (CM2T 31, 34, 19). All of this is to say that despite disagreements and occasional mistrust over specific issues, young people have faith in the institution of the military.
Unfortunately, the data do not point to an obvious explanation for why the military seems to receive the benefit of the doubt from young people. Speculatively, though, we suggest that millennial faith in the military begins with the fact that it is a volunteer force. During the Vietnam era, when scores of young people were coerced (or faced the risk of coercion) via the draft into joining the military against their will, their opinions of the institution may have been poisoned from the very beginning. Today’s service members choose to join of their own volition. For millennials who are not radically antimilitary but have no interest in serving, the transition to an all-volunteer force affords them an intellectual and emotional distance from the perceived “negative” aspects of military life—the risk of injury or death, the regimented lifestyle, and the general lack of independence—not afforded their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s. The basic fairness of the all-volunteer force, and the concomitant elimination of the risk of coerced service, may have created space for young people to respect the military in the abstract without worrying that it would unduly intrude on their lives.
There is likely more to this story than simple self-interest, however. In a period characterized by shockingly low levels of trust in our fundamental institutions, the military has consistently been the most trusted. A recent poll released by the Harvard Institute of Politics finds that 53 percent of millennials trust the military to “do the right thing” at least some of the time; the second most trusted institution is the Supreme Court, at just 42 percent, and just 17 percent of millennials have any faith that Congress will do the right thing. The military, as a nonpartisan, service-oriented institution, may have become relatively more attractive as a source of national pride and hope.
The Knowledge Deficit
We observed anecdotally during the ROTC debate at Stanford that even students who were passionate about the issue displayed an ignorance of the basic organization, demographics, and principles of the military. Claims that allowing ROTC to return would support an institution that murders innocents and preys on the poor and uneducated for recruits were met with the response (from civilian students, of course) that civilians should not question military policies because they could not possibly understand it without having served.
This lack of basic knowledge comes through clearly in the survey data. When millennials are asked directly about their familiarity with the military, 45 percent say “somewhat familiar” while another 32 percent are “not very familiar.” Only 15 percent claim to be “very familiar” with the US military. Relative to all other age groups, millennials are the least likely to self-identify as “very familiar” and most likely to identify as “not very familiar” (CM1T 39). On factual questions, millennials are not much better: their mean estimate of the Marine Corps’ manpower was upwards of 3 million—off by a factor of twenty (CM1T 57). Likewise, millennials estimated the overall strength of the military to be nearly 11 million, or roughly one in 30 Americans of all ages, when in reality the number is closer to 2.3 million, or roughly one in 140 (CM1T 58). Millennials also frequently respond with “not sure” to survey questions that involve factual knowledge of the military, suggesting a combination of ignorance and humility regarding these issues (CM1T 51, 40).
In addition to a dearth of factual knowledge of the military, there is also a general lack of awareness among millennials that service members fulfill duties other than combat. We have encountered many young people who were unaware that it is possible to be a lawyer, or a nurse, or a priest, or an electrician and have a significant role within the US military (whether on active duty or as a reserve billet). On a college campus, students are particularly shocked to find active-duty officers enrolled in graduate programs. In the YouGov survey, 73 percent of millennials agree with the statement that “many veterans” have difficulty adjusting to civilian life because of stresses they experienced in the military (CM1T 47). This finding could be interpreted in many ways, especially when juxtaposed with the responses of other generations, all of which were even higher than those of millennials. In the context of millennial unfamiliarity with the military, though, this may be further evidence of it not being common knowledge that a relatively small number of troops actually experience combat, while the vast majority will never be in a firefight.
For a generation that, by virtue of the Internet, has access to exponentially more information than its parents or grandparents, what might be the reason for millennials’ ignorance? First, they may simply not be interested in the military. Twelve percent of millennials report that a military isolated from society is a good thing, more than any other age group (CM2T 24). Millennials are the demographic least interested in news and public affairs, and, though television is the primary source of news for a plurality of millennials, nearly a quarter get their news from pop-culture sites such as BuzzFeed or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter rather than from major news organizations directly (CM1T 66, 34). When it comes to the military specifically, millennials are the least likely demographic to advise a close friend to join the military, perhaps suggesting that it is not seen as an attractive career option (CM2T 11).
The second explanation is that millennials, even those who are curious about the military, do not have enough opportunities to learn about it. Millennials generally have more interaction with current service members than other age groups do, as one might expect given that most service members are themselves millennials (CM2T 3, 5, 6, 7). On almost every other measure of personal connection to the military, however, millennials lag behind the rest of society. They are least likely to work with a veteran (CM2T 4). They are the least likely demographic to have served in the military themselves, and they are most likely to have no family members who have served (CM1T 52, 53).
While both these explanations probably have some truth to them, the second offers a much clearer path to improving the civil-military relationship amongst millennials, one that we explored at Stanford. Rather than just trying to generate millennials’ interest in the military, as seemingly every advertising agency, NGO, and political party is trying to do for their own purposes, we believe that providing opportunities to meet the demand of those already curious about the military but lacking a way to engage with it is the most promising path towards closing the millennial-military divide.
In the spring of 2012, we designed and taught a survey course for undergraduates, The US Military in International Security. The purpose of the course was to give interested students a broad overview of the history and role of the US military in American society and ongoing armed conflicts. Two years later, having identified a desire for more hands-on engagement with military issues—even among students whom one might not expect to be interested in civil-military relations (for example, students with nonmilitary families and little academic background in academic international security issues)—we decided to develop a course that would culminate in an Alternative Spring Break trip. After sifting through applications, we selected twelve students to enroll in our course, Bridging the Civil-Military Divide: Military Service as Public Service in the 21st Century. Through a variety of media, from guest lectures to film screenings to a poetry performance by student veterans, the course exposed the students to basic facts about the US military and a variety of issues in civil-military relations.
After ten weeks in the classroom, the course culminated in a one-week trip to the Washington DC area. Our group spent the first portion of the trip at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland. There, with the help of a group of student leaders equally committed to increasing civil-military dialogue, we paired our students up with midshipmen to be fully immersed in the Annapolis experience, from morning physical training to classes to extracurricular activities. The second portion of the trip involved meetings with senior Pentagon officials, a visit to Andrews Air Force Base, Marine Corps Base Quantico, the House Armed Services Committee, and the White House Office of Public Engagement.
While the second portion of the trip exposed students to high-level thinking and discourse about civil-military relations, the first portion actually allowed them to live it on a personal level and, as we will describe below, turned out to be much more impactful for them.
There were several important takeaways from the course and accompanying trip. Firstly, it confirmed our intuition that there was some unmet demand for more avenues to engage with the issue of civil-military relations and the supposed civil-military divide. Not only did the number of applications for the course and trip far exceed the resources we had at our disposal, but there were also no other structured courses or programs on Stanford’s campus to which we could point where students so unfamiliar with the military could learn and engage on these issues.
Secondly, we noticed that the human connection between our students and our military hosts was the most significant aspect of the trip. When we followed up with our counterparts at Annapolis, we were told that there was similarly strong feedback from the USNA midshipmen who were paired up with our students. The trip, unlike a more sterile classroom setting, was an opportunity for interesting conversations and exchanges of views, sometimes uncomfortable but very human.
The biggest and most important takeaway, therefore, was this: if there is indeed a millennial-military divide, the key to closing it is not in forcing millennials to learn more facts about the military or in studying American military history. Rather, it is in enabling interpersonal connections between young people and their peers in the military—connections that can inspire interest and important discussions about military and civilian values and the differences and commonalities between both groups.
Though we hear the occasional call for reinstating the draft or requiring young people to perform a year of public service, such large-scale policy changes are, at present, unpopular and probably infeasible. There are, however, several ways to increase mutual understanding and respect between young civilians and their military counterparts. Some of the ideas we propose below are straightforward and relatively easy to implement, while others might be slightly more controversial and difficult to execute. We present these ideas in order to spark conversation and thought, not as polished proposals for reform, but we believe their implementation would contribute positively to tightening the relationship between civilians and the military at all levels.
1. New Ways to Fulfill Service Obligations
As of now, newly commissioned officers are placed within their respective service branch’s hierarchy, usually in a junior management position in which they interact only with their enlisted subordinates and commissioned supervisors. Whether it is in commanding an infantry platoon or a small flight, these young officers have very little exposure to civilians working on issues of defense and international security. Flag officers, on the other hand, interact much more frequently with their civilian counterparts. Even mid-to-senior-level officers (O-4 to O-7) have the opportunity to do Pentagon rotations and engage with civilian defense officials. One alternative to the existing model, therefore, would be to allow a select group of newly commissioned officers from each military academy to fulfill a portion of their initial service obligation through a rotation at a civilian institution. Allowing a second lieutenant to work alongside a junior CIA analyst, for instance, or to serve alongside a junior foreign service officer at one of our embassies would give each an insight into the other. While spending one or two years working outside the military carries the risk that these junior officers would miss important milestones in their early careers, the experience they would gain would pay great dividends down the road, especially if they were required to work in a joint or interagency environment. Additionally, as a few high-achieving academy graduates are already able to earn a graduate degree between receiving their commissions and continuing their training, there exists a model for reintegrating junior officers into the pipeline after a year or two away.
Another option would be to allow active-duty service members to participate in long-term civilian service programs while stationed stateside. During peacetime, service members could apply to spend six months or one year working as instructors with Teach for America or builders with Habitat for Humanity, serving side-by-side with civic-minded civilians. Combined with a civil-society-based effort to engage civilian young people in national service, such a program would allow civilians and service members to bond not just through words but through actions that demonstrate their shared commitment to serving their country. The Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project, whose mission is to enable and encourage all young adults to spend a year doing public service, could be a potential partner in this endeavor.
2. University Fellowships for Senior Noncommissioned Officers
Presently, midcareer officers (usually at the O-4 and O-5 level) are given the opportunity to spend a year at a civilian institution for leadership development, introspection, and research (Stanford’s Hoover Institution and Harvard’s Kennedy School, for instance, both have year-long National Security Fellows programs with a participant from each service). As of now, these programs are restricted to officers. Allowing a select number of senior noncommissioned officers to participate in such a program would give college students a perspective on the largest and arguably most critical component of the military: the enlisted ranks. Just as they can learn a great deal from a lieutenant colonel, students could learn a great deal from a sergeant major with twenty years of experience literally making the planes run on time.
3. Exchange Programs
Just as our students at Stanford benefitted from a short period at the Naval Academy, so other college students would gain important insights by spending some time at one of the US military academies, and vice versa. American universities and the military academies should do more to establish formal exchange programs with one another, to include faculty members and administrators if possible. There are several universities that are already engaged in such efforts, such as Tufts University and Boston University, but there is certainly room for many more to become involved.
Semester-long exchanges between civilian schools and military academies would be ideal. The extended time frame would allow the exchange students not only to get a glimpse of life at their new institutions but also to integrate into the academic, social, and athletic routines and to come away with substantive achievements, such as completion of courses, participation on an athletic team, and a network of new friends. However, the practical realities of life at the military academies—with their intense, intricately planned schedules of classes and military training—may make such an extended exchange impossible. In that case, shorter exchanges, such as the week-long program we developed, can still be immensely valuable. Students in such programs would get to know their peers at the institution they were visiting and gain exposure to the different routines and culture, even if they were not able to get the in-depth experience a longer program would allow. Ultimately, exchange programs of any length are an essential tool for exposing future military officers to the independent, innovative thinking taught at the best civilian schools and for exposing civilian students to some of their most disciplined, driven, and service-oriented peers in the country.
4. More Courses on Military History, Strategy, and Civil-Military Relations
Watching the ROTC campus debate unfold, we were simultaneously inspired by the passion and underwhelmed by the knowledge displayed by the participants. Convinced that there was a market for studying military issues, we started organizing. Our first attempt to address the campus civil-military gap was leading a student-initiated course in 2012 on US military history and policy. The course was conceived the prior year by two ROTC students, and we assumed leadership after they graduated. Designed to cover the basics—what someone new to the topic might want to learn about how the military works—the class consisted of lectures from officers, professors, and former policymakers with wide-ranging experience.
We received generally positive feedback from the students, but the course had a smaller impact than we had hoped, as most of the students did not involve themselves further with military issues after the class. Lectures and PowerPoint, however well designed and presented, can only be so inspiring. The highlight of the course was a virtual staff ride through the Battle of Wanat, led by a researcher from the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth. Using software that generated a virtual landscape of Wanat, complete with virtual trees and army positions, we were able to move through the battlefield as the presenter explained the situation on the ground and what decisions were being made. This class session struck a chord because it went beyond the classroom, in feeling at least, and into the mindset of the soldiers making decisions under fire. Far more than just learning about army tactics and the facts of one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan, through this immersive presentation we gained some small insight into the human aspect of war.
At civilian institutions of higher education, most courses on military strategy are in the context of ancient warfare, and discussion centers on strategic theory and accounts of battles long past. While these are important topics worthy of scholarly attention in their own right, if they are to be more than interesting intellectual exercises, curricula must be redesigned (or new classes added) that emphasize interactivity in the classroom and interaction with service members through, for example, class trips to nearby bases or meetings on campus with visiting officers and enlisted personnel.
5. Active-Duty Officers Teach Full Time at Civilian Institutions
In our college careers, we benefitted immensely from the presence of “warrior-scholars” on campus. Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry (Ret.), General James Mattis (Ret.), and Colonel Joseph Felter (Ret.), among others, provided invaluable guidance and perspective for us as students and citizens. As the military draws down from Afghanistan and shifts to a peacetime posture (the ongoing operations in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere notwithstanding), providing more active-duty service members the opportunity to pursue higher education and then teach at civilian institutions would allow students around the country to benefit from their leadership and enable the service members to bring lessons learned in civilian institutions back into their services as they ascend the ranks. The instruction should cover traditional topics such as political science and history but could be expanded to include, say, allowing nuclear submariners to teach introductory courses in engineering and mathematics or having an army trauma surgeon teach a medical school course on emergency medicine. This would allow them to both share their perspectives as operators of finely tuned systems and make clear that there are many paths in the military other than that of the traditional infantry “grunt.” The service members, in turn, would bring to their next assignments a deeper knowledge of their field of study and a broader intellectual perspective; teaching skills, which are crucial to good leadership; and an understanding of the civilians they serve.
6. More Civilians Teaching at Military Institutions
Conversely, the students at military institutions could benefit from civilian instructors. As of now, the faculties of the US military academies are made up mostly of active duty or retired officers. with a few civilians in the mix whose subjects may be seen as too “soft” for those in the military profession. Elizabeth Samet, a civilian English professor at West Point, has written about her experience helping cadets find meaning in literature and how the lessons they learned in her classroom stuck with them as they deployed and returned home. (She has also described how much the experience has influenced her own views and beliefs.) If we could move past the fear that civilian instructors would compromise the rigor and focus of service academy curricula, increasing the number of civilian instructors could introduce service academy students to broader perspectives and even complement the lessons they learn from their military instructors, in the classroom and in the field.
7. Recruiting Veterans to Universities and Increased Funding for Veteran Scholarships
Admissions offices at American universities should improve their outreach to veterans, who would bring a unique perspective to any incoming freshman class, and, accordingly, veteran representation should be considered an integral part of a diverse student body.
Additionally, institutions of higher education, from state community colleges to private four-year universities, should create funds to help subsidize veteran enrollment. While the post-9/11 GI bill provides education benefits to veterans, it only covers the cost up to that of the state’s most expensive public university, and only does so for four academic years (thirty-six months). As the average American takes far more than four years to complete his or her undergraduate degree and most private universities cost far more than the public ones, it is reasonable to expect that veterans might require additional financial assistance beyond what the post-9/11 GI bill provides.
Furthermore, there are several for-profit universities that can only be described as predatory in their targeting of veterans. As Captain Tim Hsia (Ret.) and Anna Ivey point out in their New York Times op-ed “Fix the New G.I. Bill,” the predatory practices of these institutions are leading to higher rates of student loan defaults, an issue that only complicates a veteran’s smooth entry into the civilian workforce. Service to School, a nonprofit founded by Augusto Giacoman, Tim Hsia, Khalil Tawil, and Anna Ivey, provides free application counseling to veterans and has so far assisted over one hundred applicants in gaining admission to elite universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Columbia, and Notre Dame. This model should be replicated on a larger scale to encourage more veterans to apply to four-year colleges and universities.
The issue of civil-military relations, particularly millennial-military relations, is one that merits further investigation and consideration, both in a scholarly sense and in the context of a broader societal discussion. We do not purport to have all of the answers as to why the civil-military divide exists, nor a silver bullet to achieve perfect understanding between millennials and the military. Given the particular nature of the military profession, there will always be a gap between service members and civilians of every demographic, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. But in making an effort to understand the military and our peers serving in it, we have been fortunate to have our assumptions challenged, to build meaningful relationships with people we otherwise may never have encountered, and to gain insight into the sacrifices our fellow citizens have made—and stand ready to make again—on our behalf. Our work on this issue has done much to shape our sense of what it means to be a young person in the United States and our understanding of what opportunities and responsibilities our citizenship entails. We hope that this book and projects like it will inspire our peers—civilian and military alike—to undertake similar efforts toward mutual understanding and appreciation.