DURHAM — Forty years of filling the U.S. armed services with only volunteers has produced a well-educated, professional force, but too small of a slice of American society is bearing too much of its military burden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
Noting the absence of ROTC at Ivy League universities, Gates implored students in his audience at Duke University's Page Auditorium to consider military service.
"Go outside your comfort zone and take a risk in every sense of the word," he said. "Because, if America's best and brightest young people will not step forward, who then can we count on to protect and sustain the greatness of this country?"
There have been cultural, social and financial costs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought with a shrinking portion of the country's population, Gates said.
In a country of more than 300 million people, less than 1 percent serves in the military. A disproportionate number of them come from the South and the Western mountains, he said.
That means a few states, including North Carolina, see more of the hardships caused by longer and more frequent deployments, such as combat injuries, family strife, increased divorce rates and a growing number of suicides.
"How long can these brave and broad young shoulders carry the burden that we — as a military, as a government, as a society — continue to place on them?" Gates asked.
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