Rep. Pat Ryan says the declining proportion of Americans in the military “is a big problem for democracy.”

Washington – Rep. Pat Ryan said Sunday that he sees the divide between the small percentage of Americans — less than 1% — who are active-duty members of the U.S. military and the rest of the country “as deeply problematic as democracy is.”

“When we lose the connection between those fighting our wars and their families and everyone else, that’s something that’s absolutely necessary, so we’ve got to figure out how to bring people together, get more people to serve,” Ryan said on “Face the Nation.” Before Memorial Day.

Ryan, a veteran, said he and his colleagues in Congress worked to prioritize the draft in the annual defense bill, citing challenges between each branch of the military regarding recruiting numbers.

“We have put pressure and a set of directives to say this is not acceptable to the Department of Defense,” Ryan said. “And we’re starting to see the numbers go up.”

But for the New York Democrat, he said the “most powerful thing” he did in Congress was to participate in the hand-washing tradition at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day. The bipartisan effort was initiated by Rep. Mike Waltz, who also appeared on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

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

CBS News

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

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

Ryan and Waltz touted work to increase the number of veterans in Congress, saying they hope to attract more people who served in the military or national service to represent Americans.

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

“One of the things we are committed to and supportive of is returning us to national service as a nation,” Waltz said. “It doesn’t have to be in uniform, but it could be with a national park, inner-city tutoring, or elder care. But how do we get young people out into an environment where they learn leadership, discipline, and follow through? They serve a cause greater than themselves and their fellow Americans who may They don’t look like or come from the same backgrounds as them.”

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

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

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