JUDY WOODRUFF: The political activism of the baby boomers helped drive the civil rights movement and end an unpopular war in Vietnam. Anti-war demonstrators burned their draft cards, and in 1973 congress created a volunteer military. The armed forces have long been a career option for young people drawn to military service, in need of steady pay and benefits -- or as a way to get an education.
Sergeant Gabe Ballejos grew up in Pueblo, Colo., just a short drive from the United States Army base at Fort Carson. Almost 900,000 members of generation next are currently in the military -- including the National Guard and reserves.
Some volunteered in the wake of 9/11, others joined for different reasons.
GABE BALLEJOS: Sometimes it's guys that, you know, this is your last chance in a court, you know. And, the judge is like tapping the gavel, either you're gonna do it or you're not. Or, it's a traditional thing. Dad, brothers, you know. I'm gonna do it, too.
And then, there's people who just, you know, like me. Just -- it was a good option in life.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, 25 years old, Gabe was just eight when his father moved out, leaving his mother to raise Gabe and his four brothers on her own.
How did that affect you?
GABE BALLEJOS: I actually got held back in first grade because not only did my teacher think that it was the best thing to do at the time, because I was, I guess, in a lot -- like, really emotionally withdrawn.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Faith is central to Gabe's family. On this night his brother Levi leads a band of Christian rockers at their evangelical church.
Your religion, your faith, important to you?
GABE BALLEJOS: Very much so, because you got to have faith to go into a lot of situations. You got to believe in something that you're gonna get out of whatever may come your way. And, in my case it's through Christ, you know. And, that's what I've been taught since I was a kid.
The War in Iraq
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Gabe's faith would be tested when he re-enlisted expecting to be stationed near home -- but instead was sent to Iraq, and war.
When did you realize that this was real? We're talking life or death.
GABE BALLEJOS: It hit home for me the night before we had to fly. And, everything was packed up. And, you're looking around.
You want to be this big strong man. But, inside you're just crumbling
because you don't know what's gonna happen. I'm so glad that my
family is a religious family and, you know, kind of gave me a
basis in that because that's what gave me strength, seriously,
from the day that I left my family and I had to say goodbye.
I knew I'd be okay, and I didn't know honestly what was telling me that. It's just in my heart and it's always been.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Was there a moment though early on when you got there when you thought, Oh god. What have I gotten myself into here?
GABE BALLEJOS: Months down the line and you've been away from home for so long. Like, of course you're gonna start questioning like, Did I do the right thing? Am I really supposed to be doing this?
You know, you're stripped of every, you know, necessity that
you would think of here in the States. Electricity, all that stuff
is gone. You're living out of a truck. And, you're just like on
the side of the road. Everybody could be a possible enemy.
We didn't know who to trust. Or, if we could even trust anybody,
you know. The kids. It's a tough thing to go through when like,
you have to look at anybody, human being and say, I don't know
if you're going to hurt me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: After two tours in Iraq, Gabe returned home to a hero's welcome.
GABE BALLEJOS: I was just thankful to be back around the people that I love. That's the biggest reward in the world is when you walk into a gym full of people you don't even know and they're cheering at the top of their lungs.
JUDY WOODRUFF: If it's so great to come home and to be with your
family, and be back in Pueblo, why sign up to go back again?
GABE BALLEJOS: Just to do it, you know. It's a job. There's times, of course, when it's hard. And, you have to put up with stuff. But, it's something I really am passionate about.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You spent two years in Iraq now? Is it -
GABE BALLEJOS: Two full years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think the U.S. should've gone in originally?
GABE BALLEJOS: Something had to be done because when you see
the people that are living over there, and the way they were living,
and the opportunities that they weren't given. I can remember
times when I'd come off patrol and just cry like, goodness. I
cannot imagine having a family that I --
JUDY WOODRUFF: That what?
GABE BALLEJOS: Could take care of or … it's just a tough thing to see firsthand.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think your generation is tough enough to meet the challenges?
GABE BALLEJOS: Oh, yeah. We've proven it. We've been doing it. There's always something big that comes up and tests any generation, whether it's a war, or natural disasters.
There's gonna be strong people. People that step up, people that do things that have to be done. And that's America.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The war in Iraq was a key issue for young voters in the 2006 midterm election … nearly two-thirds said it was very important or extremely important in deciding their vote. Here are a few comments from our interactive kiosk.
JOSE M. GONZALEZ, Oklahoma City, Okla: I think the U.S. made
a poor decision using military force in Iraq. We lost more than
1,000 troops (sic). How many more do we need to lose?"
CHARISMA HENDERSON, Little Rock, Ark.: I don't believe you can fight evil with evil, and I think that's what we're trying to do. There's no way to stop someone evil, there's no way to stop somebody from disliking the U.S. by going over there and killing their leaders, you're only creating more hatred. It's sad to see that we have so many young children who are my age -- 21, 22 -- who are over there fighting a war in Iraq who are being killed.
MICHAEL BISHOP, Rogers, Ark.: I think [the Iraq War] is a great idea because we're all safer now because of it, but let's face the fact, we've been there for four years now and it's time to go. I got a brother in the army actually and he's set to go next year and I got to be honest with you, I'm scared to hell about it. People die over there every day and it's real. And if they want us gone, let's give them what they want. Let's leave.
Best friends, but politically different
JUDY WOODRUFF: Around 7 million 18 to 24 year olds attend four
year colleges full time, but it now takes the average student
five years to get an undergraduate degree. With school costs continuing
to rise, less expensive two-year community colleges have become
an attractive entry to higher education for a growing number of
young people … like Jesse Jones and Sarah McGarity.
In many ways, Sarah and Jesse are typical community college students,
mixing school with work, and in their cases, a dose of social
Concerned about the environment, Sarah persuaded Ohio's Columbus State Community College to set up a recycling program. Today's young people have been required to volunteer from an early age by both parents and schools.
In fact, 80 percent of those between the ages of 16 and 25 volunteer in some way, while 63 percent have donated money to a cause.
Recycling is one of the issues the liberal Sarah and conservative Jesse can agree on.
JESSE JONES: I might call her hippie and she might call me -- you know, Republican.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about your political views? Now, where did they come from?
JESSE JONES: Well, definitely influenced by my parents. I'd like to consider my -- I don't -- I would not like to say I'm very, very conservative because, like, social issues that touch on our generation, you know, I understand more than someone else.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What's your view on gay rights for example?
JESSE JONES: Well, with gay rights, they should not be discriminated,
you know what I mean? It's a personal choice. It's their life.
I'm kind of torn on the issue of gay marriage. I'm leaning more
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about abortion? What's your view on abortion rights?
SARAH MCGARITY: I think that people should also have that right -- to choose, you know, what goes on in their lives and what goes on with their bodies.
JESSE JONES: Abortion should be a thing that is rare but safe and I know there's laws being passed in the U.S. about, you know, having restrictions on it, you know? And I really don't have any problems with that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you get your news? And what news do you believe that you see and read here?
JESSE JONES: Well I think, it's unfortunate but it's a fact that many, many news -- almost all news stations tend to be biased in some way or another. I'm gonna use Fox News and I'm gonna use CNN.
You turn to one, you see one side of the story, you turn to the other and you see a complete -- you know, not a completely different view, but, you know a different view. Not to say that they're lying, but I'm just saying you can skew different views to paint a different picture.
SARAH MCGARITY: I get the New York Times delivered daily on e-mail. So I check … I usually do the Internet news.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think the New York Times is biased?
SARAH MCGARITY: Oh yeah, definitely.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So how do you know what to trust?
SARAH MCGARITY: I don't really necessarily trust any of it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Among 18 to 25 year olds, almost two-thirds say
they get most of their news on television, only a quarter say
newspapers, and 30 percent go online.
JANE BUCKINGHAM: I think there's an indifference to the news
media. I think they don't see the news media talking to them.
I think they don't see them caring about their topics. I think
that they certainly don't see people their age talking to them.
So I think that they -- my favorite quote was a person who said,
if the news is that important it will find me. It's what-- why
do I need the news? What does it do for me?
And for most people it doesn't. They don't think that it reflects their daily lives, so why should they bother?
JUDY WOODRUFF: And a large number don't. But there's one program many Gen Nexters do pay attention to …
JON STEWART: Welcome to The Daily Show. My name is Jon Stewart.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With its satirical take on the news, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a popular stop for Gen Nexters … four out of 10 say they tune in sometimes or regularly.
Like many young people today, Sarah and Jesse have political views that are not easily defined.
In San Diego, radio host John Fiske says traditional political labels don't apply to his generation.
JOHN FISKE: Well, I think there's a difference between people identifying themselves as being a certain thing and actually what they are in perspective or in relation to their parents. So, for example, someone might call themselves a conservative but be much more relaxed in terms of something like gay marriage.
And when you do that, all of a sudden you have all of this data and all of these numbers on the conservative young Americans. But when you really start to ask them questions issue by issue which is what Chris and Brent and I try to do on this show, you find out that they might actually be more liberal on specific issues than their parents.
If you ask them are you conservative or are you liberal they're going to -- there -- there's going to be an asterisk next to it. They're going to have a caveat. They're going to say, Well, I don't like -
MALE: I really don't think people should be spending my tax dollars on this, that or the other thing.
JOHN FISKE: I think if any generation is going to have an independent party it's going to be this generation.
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