- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) — A new, short-term volunteer enlistment option for America's armed forces will diversify the force structure, ease the strains of long-duration conflicts on the reserves and curb rising costs, according to the first publication of a new project at a Washington think tank.

The report is from the Center for Civic Enterprise, a new research and educational project at the Progressive Policy Institute, which characterizes itself as "progressive centrist." It outlines something called the "citizen soldier plan."

This volunteer enlistment program is targeted at college graduates — an under-represented group in the current military. In return for 18 months of active duty, enlistees could receive $18,000 in educational benefits. Proponents of the plan hope it also will bring greater ethnic and racial diversity to the military services, where African-Americans are over-represented and Hispanics are under-represented.

The plan was enacted in the 2003 Defense Authorization Bill and introduced in the bipartisan "Call to Service" legislation introduced by Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. and John McCain, R-Ariz. and Reps. Harold Ford, D-Tenn. and Tom Osborne, R-Neb.

The plan is scheduled to begin March 31.

This alternative enlistment option is meant to increase the number of military personnel without reinstating the draft, which the U.S. military does not support. Although bills proposed by various members of Congress to reinstate the draft have yet to be taken up by the Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke out against a draft earlier this month.

Those in favor of a short-term enlistment option believe the military lacks the personnel to fight a war with Iraq and the war on terrorism, and that more American citizens should be involved in protecting national security.

"With America embroiled in a global war on terrorism, and perhaps soon to be engaged in a conflict with Iraq, public attention inevitably turns to a crucial question: 'Who is doing the fighting and dying for all of us?"' wrote Marc Magee, director of the Center for Civic Enterprise, and Steven Nider, PPI's director of foreign and security studies.

"The Center for Civic Enterprise is a basic approach to try to find ways to solve the great challenges of our time by getting citizens involved in the effort," Magee said. "We say that the era of big government is over, and we're tying to usher in the era of big citizenship.

"Big government takes on a bureaucratic life of its own, distant from the people it seeks to serve. We're saying there could be more effective ways to solve problems by empowering citizens."

Besides the issue of common defense, the Center has taken on the challenges of homeland security, easing health care stress on aging baby boomers and helping students trapped in bad schools.

"We need to recruit for the military in a way where the burden is being shared equally," Magee continued. "(President George W.) Bush has done little to encourage a shared sacrifice; his call is a mirror of his father's idea to volunteer part-time in your community three to four times a week.

"Without wartime solidarity among Americans, it will be harder to stay the course on a long-term basis. There is a need for large-scale mobilization of Americans to go into the military, and we think this is the right step forward at the time. You should first try to meet the needs on a voluntary basis, without all the political, logistical, philosophical barriers of draft."

Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, agrees.

"This alternative service deal makes enormous sense in several directions, less with immediate than with long-term needs of a bigger, better recruiter base," Goure said. "We need to insure there are a lot of people with connection to the military, not just the odd few people who serve.

"There is a need for national service, and this may be the first step towards this. I don't think a draft is useful at this point because the military is small enough where it wouldn't accommodate a significant number of new people. All the draftees wouldn't have enough units and equipment to operate. But there are new missions for the military, such as homeland security and civil air patrol of port areas that could use volunteers."

"An innovative program like this is good for specific purposes. It can't be pushed too far to replace the current military, but for niche jobs like peacekeeping and technical specialties, it makes sense," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Even though the economy is turned down, recruiting still a challenge."

But how realistic will it be to enlist thousands of non-military personnel?

"We've (found) that college graduates are more likely to sign up for an 18-month program than for a four-year program," Magee said. "An increased number are considering service, especially after we conduct speeches for a call to service, something Bush hasn't made.

"This program offers the nation's most fortunate sons and daughters a voluntary equivalent of the old draft — a way to contribute to America's defense without choosing a military career."

Gary Schmitt, executive director of the conservative Project for the New American Century, likes the new plan in theory but doesn't think it will work.

"The law recognizes correctly that citizenship is not just about rights, it's about an obligation, which is a very positive step for Congress to take, but the law was enacted too late," he said. "A year ago, this might have worked, but the ardor for responding to Sept. 11 has cooled. We seem to be at war but not in a way people feel their daily security is at stake."

Others are concerned about the usefulness of the volunteers.

Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, said: "The length of the short duration might impinge on how useful the soldiers are, though manpower costs in the military are eating us alive, and this could be a possible remedy."

Magee assures that the new plan will involve only jobs that need as little as 20 weeks of training — such as military police, equipment operators, construction equipment operators, psychological operations specialists, and intelligence analysts — and thus a short enlistment will be appropriate and helpful.

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