Colin Powell's Call to Service

The former secretary of state on public service and division in Washington.
7:28 | 11/27/11

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Transcript for Colin Powell's Call to Service
On this Thanksgiving weekend we turn off focus to giving back. It's been fifty years since president John F. Kennedy urged young Americans to Oz what they could do for that country. But -- is challenging economic times weaken the nation's resolve to do just that for Colin Powell Beyonce is a resounding no. The retired general and former secretary of state has put so that is at the heart of his America's promise foundation. I had an exclusive conversation with him just before the holiday. Obviously the first thing it's that needs to mind his military service and yet today in this -- about 1% of Americans who go into the service. What does this tell you about the commitment of the shared sacrifice today. We are able to recruit as many soldiers as we need into the military so even though it's 1% of the population. That satisfies the need for troops in the armed forces and in fact we're looking to reduce the size of our armed forces in the months ahead. But the issue here is not the 1% that are in the military and 99% were not. And -- make sure that they find it to be a call to serve so how does work in. Well there are many things going on in this country and it is as if the -- 9% are not doing anything. There is huge huge commitment to service -- part of the American people. And will want to do is leverage -- -- even more and then make sure it is directed in ways that you know the services providing useful outcome for the American. Nation. Well before we get into those other ways of -- news. If you all our military men you've grown up all your adult life has been devoted to this idea -- -- service in an action. -- we -- in two wars. Maybe they're going to be others not so distant future and yet we still have this -- this small group of people sacrificing and serving. For the majority. But this Khomeini who come back who feel they can't -- -- taking their own lives who had to -- need to. Dependency and addiction may be homelessness and definitely jobless yes. How does this country do the dignified and right thing by these people who've put their lives on the line. Well I think we're doing a lot with respect to what the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing the Pentagon has seized with this particularly the problem suicides. You have to remember that these youngsters coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan probably have seen more combat. Than any veteran of World War II. Roll worked to -- long periods of no conflict and then wore these youngsters facing it every single day with the IDB's the ambushes bombs. I was on -- train the other day and there was a GI there was his parents and he had suffered traumatic brain injury. I stopped and talked to them. And these are the kinds of youngsters that we really have to make sure provide the right kind of government support to. Through disability payments and the like his parents are -- -- be responsible thing and now for the rest of their lives. But we have to ask all Americans to do more for veterans in your community if you see a veteran in need. If you see any veterans shake shake the hand offer to help offered to help find a job. Can you help that person with the legal issues can you do something to reach out to help the veterans don't turn around and walk away -- have to do a lot. But the real support mechanism for these youngsters coming back -- difficulty is within the community. And they are coming back with posttraumatic stress disorders are coming to -- with suicidal tendencies. There is a homeless population that really goes back to the Vietnam War. But most of them coming back integrate themselves back in society go back to their families go back to their jobs or go get an education. General Stanley McChrystal the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan -- quite a provocative essay recently -- want to read a little -- from. Saying that quote we have -- the concept of said -- become dangerously narrow often associated only with the military. And this allows most Americans to avoid the sense of responsibility essential for us to care about -- nation and for each other. We expect and demand less of -- -- then we should. What do you make of that but does seem to be as I mean -- high in the colts -- -- I don't fully I know the point he's trying to make -- -- -- -- agree -- -- because. In the work I do with the America's promise alliance product founded the request of all our presidents and fourteen years ago. We are able to get lots of people involved -- -- We see a lot of ways in which people are stepping forward. To mentor kids in school. To read the kids in school to give more there -- sources two people in need and one of the things we're doing that the America's promise alliance is we made. One of the key features of our program. Service to others among young people. So. Early as possible -- for the youngster you start putting in place that virtue and value of service to country service community service to others. And it'll make a difference is these kids grow up -- the -- in the country right now. It's still battling divisive is still very sort of brash something poisonous assuming you can -- again and -- Donald Capitol Hill just behind me -- What needs to be done to actually improve the tone and the ability of people to work to -- The town is not good right now and our political system here in Washington -- up on the hill congress. Has become. Very very tense in that -- two sides Republicans and Democrats are focusing more and more -- extreme left and extreme right. And we have to come back for the center in order to compromise. Story like -- tells our founding fathers were able to sit in Philadelphia make some of the greatest compromise is known to man. Tough tough issues but they did it why because they were there to create a country. Where we have a congress now -- can't even pass appropriations bill. And were running this country on a continuing resolution which would also be here for -- pass appropriations bills. And so we have got to find a way to start coming back together. And let me say this directly to media has to help us the media loves. This game where everybody is on the extreme it makes for great television. It makes for great chatter. It makes for great talk shows all day long with commentators commenting on commentators. About the latest little mini flap up on Capitol Hill. Shall we have to do is sort of take some of the heat. Out of our political life in terms of the coverage -- so these folks -- get to work quietly. I do you played -- he tonight but what about the fact that in fact. It is one of the political parties although. All rather the big political influence which is the Tea Party which quotes left and right the founding fathers they -- compromises it did he would and they tried to. Point to the founding fathers and the constitution. The founding fathers compromise on slavery. They had to in order to create a country. They compromise on the composition of the scent of the house of a supreme court of a president one of the president's power. Can you imagine more difficult compromises today. Compromise is how this country was founded and on the last two people in disagreement with -- each other. Don't find a way to reach out to one another and make compromises you don't get a consensus that -- should move forward but the Tea Party point of view. Of no compromise whatsoever is not. -- point of view that will eventually produce a presidential. Candidate who'll -- general Tom thank you very much indeed thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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