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'Service to your country' muddied by Peace Corps-military agreement

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When I volunteered for the Peace Corps in 1963, it was largely out of curiosity and adventure, tinged slightly by idealism. Boyd, who would serve with me in Sierra Leone, had one other driving motivation: patriotism.

Three years later, having answered the call to peace, Boyd responded to his country's summons to war. He volunteered for the Army, joined the Rangers, and fought in Vietnam for a year before being wounded. Purely out of patriotism.

"I'm still a patriot," Boyd, now retired and living in Plymouth, Mass., told me unabashedly the other day (but asked that I not use his last name). "I'd pull guard duty at the end of the street if they asked me."

I thought of Boyd after learning that the US military is offering new enlistees the option to meet part of their obligation by serving two years in the Peace Corps. Senators John McCain (R) of Arizona and Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana inserted this obscure provision in a defense bill three years ago. More than 4,000 active servicemen and women will be eligible to apply to the Peace Corps in 2007.

Several former Peace Corps staff and volunteers have expressed concern to me that this could compromise volunteers' credibility and safety. The Peace Corps, according to a spokesperson, was not asked to endorse this initiative, which appears intended solely to boost military recruitment. Unlike the armed services, the Peace Corps is never short of volunteers.

Boyd and I volunteered for the Peace Corps in the era of the military draft. We and most of the other male volunteers expected to be conscripted when we returned from teaching in Africa. Some were. Boyd saved his draft board the trouble.


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