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The number of American citizens who qualify to join the military under current standards is quickly decreasing as the country faces the longest period of armed conflict in its history. As a consequence, service members must go on multiple deployments as the attrition rate rises faster than recruitment, forcing too many units to rely on unfit, unstable, and unprepared service members who put themselves, their comrades, and our country at risk.
When the United States ended the draft after the war in Vietnam, many assumed that American citizens would raise their right hand, take the oath to protect the country, and serve in uniform out of a sense of patriotism. After the Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, this assumption was put to the test — and the result remains a disappointing reality as less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has answered the call.
Despite the shortage of qualified and willing talent, wars in the Middle East and parts of Africa have placed demands on the military like never before, threatening morale, discipline and effectiveness. Examples include multiple suboptimal policy changes such the provision of waivers to enlist high school dropouts, felons and others normally not qualified; increasing soldiers’ deployments from 12 to 15 months; and “stop loss” orders that froze discharges and kept families apart for longer periods.
So what can be done? Will Congress bring back the draft? Highly unlikely, and unlikely to work even if it did. The Department of Defense estimates that 71 percent of the roughly 34 million 17- to 24-year-olds in the United States today would fail to qualify based on the current enlistment criteria because of physical or mental health issues, low education scores, or negative background checks. Among those who are qualified, many young people choose not to join or feel no obligation to serve in uniform. This has to change, and AMVETS has made it its mission to do so, starting with outreach to primary, middle, and high school students through the AMVETS Americanism program.
Inspiring a sense of patriotism in American children of all ages and walks of life is the best recruiting strategy for our future military and national defense.
What is the AMVETS Americanism Program?
The AMVETS Americanism Program is a patriotic program the organization offers schools and youth organizations as a resource for teaching children in kindergarten through 12th grade about their American heritage, civics and citizenship. The program includes flag drawing, poster and essay contests that are grade specific and age appropriate.
Who is eligible?
All school age children, K-12. They may attend public, private, parochial schools or may be home schooled. Participants may also come through any youth group such as Scouting or from Church Sunday schools. Students in kindergarten–1st grade can enter the Flag Drawing contest. Students in 2nd–5th grades can enter the Poster contest. Students in 6th–12th grades can enter the Essay Writing contest
How does a child or young adult participate?
Teachers or youth group leaders hopefully will take the initiative to involve their students. The program addresses learning standards in civics and presents excellent topics for writing and art assignments, which teachers can incorporate into their classes.Teachers may also contact a local AMVETS post or department to invite veterans to visit their classes. Students whose teachers or schools are not participating in the program can still enter the contest specific to their grade as a take-home or after-school project. Parents may contact a local AMVETS post or department, on behalf of their children, to submit entries or contact the AMVETS National Programs Department at 301-683-4031.
How do I enter?
Entry forms (PDF files) with contest rules, including the “themes” can be downloaded by clicking on the link below:
Americanism Contest Packet – PDF file (1.23 MB)
The 2017-2018 Americanism theme is “Why is the Constitution important to me?”
Our future themes are:
2018-2019: “Why should you say ‘Thank you’ to a Veteran?”
2019-2020: “What does freedom mean to me?”
2020-2021: “What do I think of when I see the American flag?”
2021-2022: “Why should we honor and respect our Veterans?”
Click here to see a list of the 2017 winners.
AMVETS is a member of the Citizens Flag Alliance
Testimonials from our patriots…
5 November 2017
Thank you for sponsoring my trip to Valley Forge. Over the week I have made a lot of friends and learned so much about American history. The experience has been amazing and one I won’t soon forget. Thank you again so much for this opportunity!
Thomas Borre, Indiana
Thank you for the opportunity to come to Pennsylvania this weekend, November 2nd through the 5th. It is an opportunity that I will never forget and I will take the lessons I learned here and use them for the rest of my life. This past weekend has been super informative and the lessons taught were very beneficial. Some of the workshops gave me some ideas that I may want to do when I am older. I loved the mock trial and learning how amendments are made. Learning about our government was super cool. I also loved coming out to Pennsylvania and seeing the places where our nation began. This will forever will be a memorable time in my life and I will never forget the memories made with my new friends in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
Sincerely, Madison Hilgenkamp, Nebraska
Thank you so much for selecting my essay for the National Americanism Essay Contest on the topic of “Why is it important to vote?” as winner for New York State. I am incredibly grateful and deeply indebted to you for having such faith in me and for thinking that I deserve such a rare opportunity. To be perfectly honest, I have never won anything on such a large scale or been selected for anything like this as an accolade for my work. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I will always cherish and remember your organization for facilitating my first big success. The program itself was incredible and I learned so much and met so many wonderful, unique people. This weekend has been one of the best weekends of my life and it will stay in my memory forever.
Sincerely, Mary Donnelly, New York
Thank you for offering all of us the opportunity to be able to travel to the birthplace of our nation. We were able to visit Valley Forge, where the minutemen and George Washington went to. We visited one of the most important places to U.S. history. We were in the room where it happened. Where the Declaration of Independence was signed, where the Constitution was signed [and] where the Constitutional Convention happened. So many places where history was made. It was an honor to be at a place where once, some heroes like Hamilton, Jefferson, and Washington once stood. The history of this place is amazing and overall awesome. I have taken lots of pictures that I will go share. Besides the history of this amazing place I was also able to see all different types of cultures [from] around the U.S. I met some [people] from N. Carolina, Connecticut, and New York, and I met some new people from California. I hope everyone here truly enjoyed this experience, because this was one of [my] best memories. As a[n] Immigrant of Mexico, this place makes [me] feel proud of the country I moved to and hopefully this Nation will continue to prevail. And that this Nation Under God will continue to succeed and the government of the people, by the people, and for the people will never perish. THANK YOU!!
Jorge Ochoa-Reyes, California
Lucas is a proud, young American, and winner of AMVETS’ recent Americanism poster contest.
Americanism Essay Contest Winners
"What the Pledge of Allegiance Means to Me" - Division I Winner
This year's winning essay from Division I (5th/6th graders) is from Beatriz Gabriel of Worthington Lodge #2287.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. What does it really mean?
"I pledge allegiance", really stands for I promise to be true. "To the flag", stands for the symbol of our country. "Of the United States of America", stands for a country where people choose others to make laws for them. "For which it stands" stands for the flag that means our country. "Under God" the people believe in a supreme being. "Indivisible" stands for our country that cannot be split into parts. "With liberty and justice" means with freedom and fairness. "For all" stands for each person in the country.
To me the pledge of allegiance stands for "I pledge to be true to the symbol of our country, and for each state that has joined our country, where people choose to make laws for them, and for the flag that means our country, for the people that believe in a supreme being, and for our country that cannot be split with freedom and fairness for each person in the country."
The Pledge of allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy. It was published in the juvenile magazine, "The Youths Campaign." That is what the Pledge of Allegiance means to me.
This year's winning essay from Division II (7th/8th graders) is from Hailey Turner-Hubbard of Brainerd Lodge #615.
When I put my hand on my heart, look up at the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I'm reminded of the respect and love I have towards my country. I think of the soldiers that have sacrificed everything, including their lives, so that citizens of America are able to live freely. There are two things in the Pledge of Allegiance that really stand out to me.
The Pledge states that we are "one nation, under God." I believe this means that we have the right to believe in whomever and whatever we please. Without soldiers fighting for us, there is a chance I wouldn't have that liberty. This also reminds me that our nation was founded on religion. I believe this goes towards many religions, not just Christianity. It tells me that our country comes from many different religious backgrounds, but we're still one united nation.
I think the pledge is also a promise. It's my promise that I'll be loyal to my country and the values it was founded on. I'm also promising to honor my country and the soldiers that have fought for it. To show my loyalty I can participate in governmental things such as voting. I'm too young for that, so for now I can study our nations history. Our nation wouldn't be what it is today if we didn't keep this promise.
By saying the Pledge of Allegiance, I'm reminded of my love and respect towards my home. The United States of America.
"What Veterans Day Means to Me" - Division I winner
This year's winning essay for Division I (5th/6th) is from Kristen T. of Mankato Lodge #225.
When I think of Veterans Day, I think of all the servicemen and women that risked their lives so that us Americans could have freedom. It takes a true serviceman to do something that amazing! I have many veterans in my family tree, my grandpas, my father, was named Marine of the year, then I have two brothers, one currently in the Marines, and one that just finished his four years. I am so proud of my family, and for all the Veterans out there that have made this world a wonderful and safe place to live.
Freedom has a price, and everyone deserves to pay it, but because of these servicemen and women, they paid it for us. Veterans day is a day to honor and remember these Veterans for the great sacrifices that they have made for us. Military families sometimes miss Holidays and special occasions together.
It doesn't take a big man or woman to do big things, because big or small, you can always do big things. I always keep all veterans that have served, or still serving right now in my prayers. Being a veteran is a big responsibility, and they should be good role models for everyone. It is my hope that kids in the world look up to veterans and give them the respect they deserve. It is also my hope that everyone remembers Veterans day and cherishes the thought of our brave heroes.
"What Veterans Day Means to Me" - Division II winner
This year's winning essay for Division II (7th/8th grade) is from Cayanne K. of Red Wing Lodge #845.
Veterans Day...for some it might just simply mean getting off school or work, sleeping in, maybe a nice barbecue with friends and family, and at one point that’s all it. ever meant.
I've only thought about what others wanted me to think about Veterans Day. I have learned from a young age that this federal holiday is meant to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, but before writing this essay I never really put much thought into how I felt about such an important day. To be honest, I don't think to pray for all of the U.S. military veterans every single day. I’m not thankful enough for these courageous people. So the question, What does Veterans day mean to me? ... there is no right or wrong answer, but for me Veterans Day is all about apologizing for not thanking those who deserve it most and making it up by dedicating November 11 each year to men and women who have put our lives in front of theirs not even knowing who we are. I am proud to say that lately I have been putting all veterans, not just my relatives and close friends, in my thoughts and prayers more often. All of these Americans have made such a difference in all of our lives. I now know I will look at Veterans Day with more respect, and I'm sorry it wasn't so important to me!
Winning Essays: 2013 Americanism Essay Contest
"What the National Anthem Means to Me" - Division I winner
This year's winning essay for Division I (5th/6th) is from Riley B. of Bemidji Lodge #1052.
The National Anthem is played at almost every sports event, you might hear it on Independence Day, and it is part of every day life for most patriotic Americans. The song is so common yet rarely will people take the time to consider what it means. To me the National Anthem symbolizes bravery. I recognize bravery because the song was made in the chaos of a battle. The closing verse strongly recognizes my feelings for this song. But I do not just recognize the soldiers in Fort McHenry, or even the soldiers fighting in the war of 1812. I also recognize all the brave men and women that have fought to keep our country safe for over 236 years. Each war posed new challenges and threats that took bravery to overcome. The National Anthem makes me feel grateful for being lucky enough to live in such a great country with people that are willing to give their lives just so you and I can live a good life. Because of these reasons I will feel proud the next time I hear the Star Spangled Banner played at a sporting event or any other event. I will also remember how brave our country has been to get where we are today, and how lucky I am to live in it. I hope you will too.
"What the National Anthem Means to Me" - Division II winner
This year's winning essay for Division II (7th/8th grade) is from Dax M. of Bemidji Lodge #1052.
The National Anthem is one of the most important parts of America's history. It was written by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and a poet. He wrote it while witnessing Fort McHenry being attacked. This poem was written in 1814 during the war of 1812. The poem was later turned into a song with the tune of a popular song in America, "The Anacreontic Song". In 1916, Woodrow Wilson, the president, made the Star Spangled Banner the national anthem, as many people call it today in America. What does the National Anthem mean to me? It shows our freedom. It shows what our country went through to achieve freedom. It shows that all the lives that were taken for our country. It shows that even when there were bodies lying around the soldiers and they were scared and thought they would never see their families again, they still fought, they were courageous. They had hope in the midst of darkness. Whenever you hear the National Anthem, you shouldn't just sing it like it's a chore, you should think of the words you are singing, and think about what your ancestors went through so their children and grandchildren would be safe and live happy, prosperous lives. A quote from Nathan Hale before he was killed said, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." That is how all of us should think about our country, we should be willing to give our lives for God, and the United States of America.
Winning Essays: 2012 Americanism Essay Contest
"Why I Am Proud To Pledge Allegiance To Our Flag" - Division I winner
This year's winning essay for Division I (5th/6th) is from sixth grader Laura W. of Brainerd Lodge #615.
Every morning, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Most of us don't really pay attention to what those 31 words we know by heart mean, but they mean more than most most other words we use during the school day. Those 31 words signify what it means to be an American, and I'm proud to recite it every morning.
First of all, the Pledge of Allegiance unites all Americans together. Every one from Alaska to Florida, from Texas to Minnesota, is held together by the one thing we recite every morning. The Pledge of Allegiance holds Americans together.
Secondly, the Pledge of Allegiance reminds all of us about the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and those who have fought in wars before to ensure our nation's freedom. In America we're allowed the freedom to pursue "life, liberty and happiness", unlike in some countries of the world. The troops fighting for us ensure we will keep that freedom.
And lastly, I'm proud to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it's reminding people of the freedom that everyone gets no matter their race, religion, gender, creed or anything else. The Pledge of Allegiance keeps the diversity in America alive.
In conclusion, I'm proud to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it holds all Americans together, it reminds us about the troops who have fought for our country, and it reminds of of our freedom and diversity in America.
"Why I Am Proud To Pledge Allegiance To Our Flag" - Division II winner
This year's winning essay for Division II (7th/8th grade) is from eighth grader Brock D. of Thief River Falls Lodge #1308.
Our Flag is a national symbol that represents not only our pride as Americans, but also our freedom and liberty earned by our own sweat, toil, and blood.
The words of the pledge are an outline of our commitment to the flag; telling us why it represents us, and we represent it. While it compels us to commit to our nation, it also tells us we are unified with our countrymen in common rights. This flag shows our unity in every city and town. It surrounds memorials and national monuments. It constantly receives standing ovations from crowds attending sports games, military events, parades, and every day events such as boy scouts, city council meetings, and even the Elks Flag Day Ceremony. No matter the event, it is honored greatly because of its promise that we are "one Nation, under God". Our flag prompts integrity and determination dating back to the Revolutionary War where it was used to motivate our soldiers to become one sovereign and independent nation. Ever since America's independence, it has been a solemn reminder of our common bond, too, whether covering a casket of a lost soldier or waving majestically over our Capitol. It reminds us of our history in every American classroom. It units our past, present and future.
United we stand.
Our flag is the basis of our country's unity. That is why I am proud to pledge allegiance to our flag.