- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) — Rep. Charles Rangel's bill to bring back the draft is the most dramatic in a series of proposals intended to distribute the burdens of military service more equitably.

But in a political climate hostile to conscription, is the New York Democrat's proposed legislation merely a gesture? In October, Rangel voted against a joint resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, which passed the House 296-133 and the Senate 77-23.

"I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve — and to be placed in harm's way — there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq," Rangel wrote Tuesday in a New York Times op-ed. In a phone interview, the congressman was asked what he thought of the bill's chances of passage.

"I don't want to get there," he told United Press International, "because I don't know how many people understand what war's all about and what sacrifice is all about. It's never hit home who the hell will be fighting the war. And I think that this is going to bring it home.

"I'll be able to give you updates, but I can't do it before my members have an opportunity to read the legislation. I may have to make changes, because I'm getting a lot of calls from Republicans who believe, war or no war, there should be mandatory national service, whether it's in the military, or the hospitals, or the nursing homes, or the schools. There's a lot of support for young people showing their patriotism by mandatory service to the government."

Rangel is among a diminishing number of U.S. leaders who does understand what war is about. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948 and was sent to Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division in the summer of 1950. He took part in heavy combat, was wounded, awarded the Bronze Star, and discharged as a staff sergeant in 1952.

"We need more troops," Rangel told UPI. "If something breaks out in Korea, we've only got 38,000 troops there." He noted that more personnel might be needed to deal with al Qaida in Southwest Asia or elsewhere. "We're calling up 250,00 reservists. I don't know where (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld is taking this. All I'm saying is, we can't keep going to the same source of people to put them in harm's way."

A Dec. 19 Washington Post story described the toll a year's deployment imposed on the families of Maryland-based reservists called up after Sept. 11, 2001, and who now face reactivation. The long tour in Texas of the 443rd Military Police Company "slowed careers and turned marriages brittle," The Post's Christian Davenport reported. Now the prospect of another deployment after only three months "is roiling morale and discipline."

The wife of a staff sergeant in the company said the year apart from her husband was so stressful that the couple separated for a few weeks after he returned. The Post said: "The children didn't respect his authority, she said. And a part of her didn't want them to."

Another member of the unit, a single mother, had to pull her 9-year-old daughter out of school and send the child to her grandmother's in Mississippi. Now the reservist is warning both schools that she may have to do the same thing again.

A few of the soldiers have told their company commander that they will not go if recalled to active duty, and an unusually large number failed to report to base as ordered on Dec. 14.

Contrary to initial accounts, the Sept. 11 attacks did not result in more recruits for the uniformed services. In addressing the question of a shared burden of self-defense, the Progressive Policy Institute — the think tank affiliated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council — reports: "It is not that there are too many enlistees drawn from the ranks of the least-educated and least well-off Americans, but instead that there are too few enlistees drawn from the ranks of the best educated and most well-off citizens."

In a recent policy report by Marc Magee and Steven J. Nidler, the PPI cited "a troubling decline over the last decade in the quality of our military recruits. … The percentage of enlistees scoring in the top half of the Armed Forces Qualification Test has dropped by a third since the mid-1990s."

Moreover, "about one-third of all enlistees do not complete their initial term of service," an attrition rate that costs the government more than $1.3 billion a year, according to GAO estimates.

"An educated soldier clearly gives the Army a tremendous return on investment," Army Secretary Thomas E. White said in reference to the "virtual university" for enlisted soldiers. But the government gets its best value from those who enter the service already educated. In a recent commentary, a young attorney explained the reluctance of the best-educated Americans to enlist.

Geoffrey Rapp, a 2001 graduate of Yale Law School, is one of the few who did take the enlistment oath in the wake of Sept. 11. In a Dec. 15 Washington Post Outlook essay titled "A Generation Willing to Serve If All Do," he wrote that when he joined the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer, he was a federal law clerk, an adjunct law professor, "and already fully participating in the race up the career ladder." He expressed the belief that all of his "grade-chasing, success-obsessed" peers "would have dutifully embraced national service at some point after high school" except for the fear that the time committed to the military would put them behind their contemporaries professionally. "So instead of everyone signing up, no one does."

Eight years after high school, Rapp believes that military or alternative national service should be mandatory for all.

The PPI report by Magee and Nidler endorses the short-term enlistment option written into the 2003 Defense Authorization Bill by Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and John McCain, R-Ariz. The creation of a citizen soldier enlistment track is designed to "appeal especially to college-educated youths, who are now dramatically underrepresented in America's all-volunteer force," they write. The option, first proposed in the mid-1980s by Prof. Charles Moskos of Northwestern University — the nation's pre-eminent military sociologist — aims to supplement the professional military cadre with cohorts of citizen soldiers who rotate in and out of the service.

Moskos found that the prospect of 18-month enlistments followed by limited reserve duty was particularly attractive to students at upper-tier universities, who also said the probability of serving overseas doubled the likelihood of their volunteering.

"The two main reasons we have not seen a surge of enlistment on elite college campuses since Sept. 11 are the long enlistments pushed by military recruiters and the fact that President Bush has yet to include military service in his overall call to service to the nation," Moskos told Magee and Nidler.

Rangel said he will introduce his bill next week. "And before passage, we're going to have a debate. And what a debate we're going to have. It's going to be exciting."

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