Jewish World Review May 25, 2004 / 5 Sivan, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Consumer Reports


Bring back the draft? Take a march to reality, soldier


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The Selective Service System quietly has been filling vacancies on local draft boards, prompting feverish speculation from the usual suspects that President Bush plans to reinstate the military draft.


"Pending legislation in the House and Senate would time the program so the draft could begin as early as Spring 1975 — conveniently just after the 2004 presidential election!" wrote Adam Stutz on the Vancouver Indymedia web site.


The Armed Forces are not now having difficulty recruiting and retaining enough volunteers to maintain current end strengths, either in active or reserve components. But many fear that if the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, this will be harder to do.


The upsurge in violence there has forced the Army to postpone plans to scale down the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, currently about 135,000. Major elements of all 10 of the Army's active duty divisions either are in Iraq or Afghanistan, have just returned, or are slated to deploy there soon.


This has sent the Army scrambling for troops. One of the two mechanized infantry brigades stationed in South Korea will deploy to Iraq this summer. The Army also is considering closing the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, so that the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which acts as the opposition force in exercises there, could be freed up for deployment. Despite this, the Army would sooner bring back the musket before it brings back the draft.


"You're talking about an undertaking that nobody has the stomach for," said Andrew Krepinovich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is director of the Center for Strategic and Budget Alternatives in Washington.


While many in the military support conscription on the grounds of social equity or national service, nearly all professional soldiers think that bringing back the draft now would reduce the quality of the military, while driving up its cost.

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"The draft would be the Army's worst nightmare," said retired LtCol. Leonard Wong, now a research professor at the U.S. Army War College. "We have a high quality Army because we have people who want to be in it. Our volunteer force is really a professional force. You can't draft people into a profession."


The cost of feeding, clothing, housing, and paying a large influx of unskilled personnel would gobble up resources the military needs for other purposes, and the historic two year period of conscription isn't enough time to get a reasonable return on the cost in time and money it takes to train soldiers in today's hi-tech Army.


"There's just too much equipment (draftees) could break," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.Org, a think tank in Washington.


And even if the draft were reinstated tomorrow, it would take at least two years before it could produce additional soldiers for Iraq and Afghanistan.


"It will take 193 days from the time that we get started until the first person is presented to the Department of Defense," said Alyce Burton, a spokeswoman for the Selective Service.


It would then take a year and a half to two years to train the draftees and form them into new combat units, Krepinovich said.


If more combat troops are needed, the National Guard could supply them. There are 38 combat brigades in the Army National Guard. Three have been called to active service, and four more are being mobilized. But that leaves 31 that could be called upon.


Prof. Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, America's pre-eminent military sociologist, favors a draft because he thinks it's the only way to get the children of the elites to serve.


But Moskos acknowledges it would be difficult to make a draft fair. About two million males will turn 18 this year. The 2004 recruiting goals for all the services is just 187,437. Even is the number of recruits were tripled, and there were no volunteers at all, less than a third of males would be called, less than 15 percent of the eligible population, if women were drafted, too.


"In the 1950s (when the Armed Forces were much larger and the youth population much smaller) you had to be lucky not to be drafted," Pike said. When even Elvis was called, we felt like we were all in this together. But today, you'd have to be awfully unlucky to be drafted. How could anyone think that's fair?"

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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