Low percentage of Americans in military is “deeply problematic as a democracy,” Rep. Pat Ryan says


Washington — Rep. Pat Ryan said Sunday that he sees the small share of Americans — less than 1% — who are active-duty service members in the U.S. military as “deeply problematic as a democracy.”

“When you lose touch between those that are fighting our wars and their families and everyone else, that’s something so essential that we have to figure out how to bring folks together, and get more folks serving,” Ryan said on “Face the Nation” ahead of Memorial Day. 

Ryan, a veteran, said he and his colleagues in Congress have worked to prioritize recruiting within an annual defense bill, citing challenges among each branch of the military with recruiting numbers. 

“We’ve been pushing and a bunch of directions to say that is not acceptable to the Department of Defense,” Ryan said. “And, and we’re starting to see the numbers come up.”

But for the New York Democrat, he said “the most powerful thing” he’s done in Congress is participate in a tradition of hand-washing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to mark Memorial Day. The bipartisan effort was started by Rep. Mike Waltz, who also appeared on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Reps. Pat Ryan and Mike Waltz on “Face the Nation,” May 26, 2024.

CBS News

Waltz, a Florida Republican who is also a veteran, said of the tradition that it’s “important for the American people” to see the lawmakers of various backgrounds “honoring our forefathers” together, despite their differences. 

“I saw the acrimony and the in-fighting and I said, you know, let’s get a group of veterans together,” Waltz said, explaining how the tradition got its start. “People who really have skin in the game.”

Ryan and Waltz touted working to increase the number of veterans in Congress, saying they’re hoping to get more people who have served in the military or perfromed national service to represent Americans. 

And Waltz noted that when it comes to serving the country, “service doesn’t just have to be in the military.”

“One of the things that we’re both adamant and advocates of is getting us back to national service as a country,” Waltz said. “That doesn’t necessarily have to be in uniform, but it could be with the national park, inner-city tutoring, elderly care. But how do we get young people out in an environment where they’re learning leadership, discipline, followership, serving a cause bigger than themselves and with fellow Americans who may not look or come from the same backgrounds as them.”

Waltz suggested that the government incentivize service, proposing that young people could perform a year of service after graduation and receive a benefit. 

“I think we need to rethink service as a country,” he added. 

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