A day of service honors us all

  • Published
  • By Martha J. Lockwood
  • Defense Media Activity
"What are you doing for others?"

Martin Luther King Jr. posed this as "life's most persistent and urgent question." In honor of the slain civil rights leader and his commitment to community service, Jan. 19 will be "a day on, not a day off." This phrase was coined in 1994, when Congress designated the federal holiday as a national day of service to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems and move us all closer to King's vision of community.

The federal holiday, first designated in 1983, is the only federal holiday that is also a national day of service.

This call to a day of service comes through President Barack Obama's nationwide service initiative, United We Serve (UWS), and is built upon the belief that ordinary people can achieve the extraordinary. UWS is managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency charged with promoting and fostering volunteering and national service in America.

Participating in the National Day of Service can be an individual effort, such as volunteering one time at a local food bank or soup kitchen, or it can be a base-wide event involving more than one venue.

While volunteering is not a uniquely American quality, Americans showcase volunteerism for the rest of the world. CNCS statistics through 2013, the last year for which numbers have been published, note that one in four Americans volunteer through organizations, estimating the value of this service at nearly $173 billion. Nearly two-thirds (62.5 percent) of Americans also engaged in "informal volunteering" in their communities, which includes helping neighbors and being involved in school, civic, recreational, religious or other service organizations.

And that's just American civilians. Airmen volunteer every day, providing the spirit and the foundation for the world's best Air Force.