When, as Americans, we speak of serving our country, the selfless men and women of our armed forces usually come to mind. These everyday Americans don a uniform and transform themselves into extraordinary human beings who protect our citizens and preserve our freedoms for generations to come. I was proud to serve beside so many courageous Americans in the U.S. military. But when I retired after three decades, I knew my service to America was far from complete. In 1997, I founded America's Promise Alliance, a coalition of organizations that gives young people the wraparound supports the Five Promises they need to succeed in school, work and life. Through the Alliance, people serve their country in various ways. These ordinary Americans undertake extraordinary acts of service mentoring young people to help them stay in school, providing service-learning opportunities, helping underserved children receive the health care for which they are eligible.
I challenge all citizens to take a moment to think about their greatest passions, gravest concerns or grandest ambitions and transform those ideals and ideas into action. Whether for a national cause, a local organization or the life of one individual, each of us has the power to make a difference. As men and women of service, we transform ourselves, our communities and, ultimately, our country. We uphold America's tradition as a "service nation" and fulfill our responsibility to one another. Whether it's a teenager teaching kids to read, a hardworking mother finding time to serve meals in a soup kitchen or a retiree aiding those too frail to help themselves, we provide for the common defense and the common good of our nation. Thomas Jefferson said, "There is a debt of service due from every man to his country, proportioned to the bounties which nature and fortune have measured to him." As the richest nation in the world, our bounty is infinite. And so is our capacity to help.
Powell served as U.S. Secretary of State from 2001 to 2004
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