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thedrifter
02-19-07, 08:33 AM
Posted on Mon, Feb. 19, 2007

MILITARY MANPOWER PROBLEMS | Some say draft is the answer
Finding our fighters
Need to beef up U.S. troop strength forces the nation to re-examine its methods, and results, in recruiting.
By DREW BROWN
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON | Fighting nearly four years in a two-front war has put unprecedented stress on the Army and the Marine Corps.

In addition to raising questions about whether an all-volunteer force can be maintained over the long term, it also draws attention to how the sacrifice from American society is not being distributed equally.

“The idea that 300 million Americans send the same 140,000 people again and again and again into combat is absolutely immoral,” said Frank Schaeffer, co-author of AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes From Military Service — and How It Hurts Our Country.

“We’re an enormous and wealthy country, but essentially we’ve taken a small group of people and we expect them to do everything.”

No one sees a draft being reinstituted in the near future, but manpower problems are serious.

The Pentagon has been told to begin recruiting 92,000 more troops to strengthen its fighting arm over the next five years.

That means Army recruiters will have to sign up an additional 7,000 men and women every year, when they are already struggling and standards have been dropped to meet current quotas.

In the meantime, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has outlined plans to call up the National Guard and Army Reserve more frequently. But the more the military relies on its citizen-soldiers, the less attractive the reserves become to those who don’t want full-time military careers.

Even if U.S. troops were to pull out of Iraq tomorrow, the nation faces a war of unknown duration against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and possibly Africa. Iran is seen as a threat, too.

“An extraordinary amount of sacrifice has been asked of our men and women in uniform, and of their families,” the Iraq Study Group warned. “The American military has little reserve force to call on if it needs ground forces to respond to other crises around the world.”

Asked why he doesn’t ask Americans to make sacrifices for the war, President Bush told PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer last month that, “I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University and a longtime advocate of the draft, calls statements such as these “patriotism-lite.”

“It reflects badly not only on the national leadership, it also reflects badly on the American people,” said Moskos, a former draftee. “They’re not calling for the draft, either — you know, put my son in — but that’s where it’s got to start.”

Rep. Geoff Davis, a Kentucky Republican, said a “more proactive focus” was needed from the administration to “explain to the American people, very credibly and consistently, the nature of the environment in which we live today and why service is important to the future of our country.”

As the strain on the military has grown, the Pentagon has opened the ranks to those it would not have accepted five years ago. The Army now accepts recruits as old as 42.

Since 2003, the Army has doubled — to 901 last year — the number of cases of accepting recruits with felony or misdemeanor convictions.

Retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, who oversaw the policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation secret, proposes repealing the policy. “We must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job,” he wrote.

And not just Americans. One proposal floated would let the military recruit foreigners in exchange for U.S. citizenship.

Experts say when it comes to fighting and dying for the country, the sons and daughters of the country’s political and socioeconomic elite are noticeably absent from the battlefield.

Only a handful of lawmakers in Congress have sons or daughters who have served or who are serving in the military. Exceptions include Sens. Kit Bond, John McCain and Jim Webb and Rep. Duncan Hunter, all of whom have sons who are Marines.

But then fewer members of Congress have served in the military than in the past. According to a 2004 survey, 121 members of the House of Representatives and 35 senators were military veterans, less than a third.

When the country drafted its soldiers, about three-fourths had served.

Moskos said that in his 1956 graduating class at Princeton, there were 750 students, all male, and 450 went into the military. Last June, there were 1,100 men and women in Princeton’s graduating class, and nine went into the military.

Critics of the conscription era, which ended in 1973, said the burden of service often fell on those who couldn’t avoid it by student deferments, political contacts or other means. They add that the public turned against the war in part because people didn’t think the burden was fairly shared.

“It’s only when privileged youth are willing to put their lives on the line that the cause of the war is seen as legitimate,” Moskos said.

He sees the same thing happening with the Iraq war today.

“What we’re doing now, of course, is paying working-class American youth to die. These are not bottom-of-the-barrel kids by any means, but they are not the privileged youth, either.”

The Defense Department’s latest annual survey of social representation in the military acknowledges that “prevailing economic conditions may come into play” when a person decides to enlist.

Outside studies are mixed. The National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan group in Northampton, Mass., says its data analysis from the past two years shows Army recruits from wealthy neighborhoods — defined as those with average household incomes of $60,000 or more — are underrepresented. Most recruits come from households with incomes in the $30,000 to $59,000 range, the group said.

But a Heritage Foundation survey last year found 18- to 24-year-olds from homes with incomes ranging from $52,000 to $200,000 a year were overrepresented in the ranks.

“It is true that the sons of the very wealthy do not necessarily serve,” said Bernard Rostker, the author of I Want You!: The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force and a senior fellow at the Rand Corp., a research center. But “it is not a force of poor people. It is a force that represents a broad cross-section of America.”

Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Georgia Democrat, said, “I think it’s a legitimate question to ask. I don’t personally believe the country is ready for a draft. But I believe that if they felt a serious enough threat, all able-bodied Americans would probably want to support our national security in whatever ways they could.”

Draft proponents say those whom the military doesn’t need could work in homeland security guarding airports, seaports and borders or could work in understaffed hospitals or schools.

Davis and many in the military say a return to mandatory service would add unnecessary costs to national defense and would “reduce the productivity of military organizations in general.”

“The nature of decentralized tactics today demands a level of professional experience and competence far above what it was 30 and 40 years ago,” said Davis, a former Army officer and West Point graduate.

Schaeffer said American attitudes on who should join the military puts our nation on a “collision course with itself because America has worldwide obligations.”

“All it’s going to take is one more conflict or one more world crisis,” he said, and “we’re going to be facing a simple choice of act or don’t act. And if we do, then we’re going to have to have alternatives.”
Costs of defense


•The Defense Department spends more than $1.2 billion a year on recruiting.

•The Pentagon estimates a cost of about $4 billion more a year to reinstate the draft. New facilities would have to be built to train and house the inductees.

•The Selective Service System announced in December that it is planning a test of its mechanisms for instituting a draft, though probably not until 2009. Its last test was in 1998. But the agency is not preparing for another draft, officials said.
To reach Drew Brown, send e-mail to dbrown@mcclatchydc.com.

Ellie