- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2017

A U.S. commission on national service has been impaneled to provide Congress and the White House with the experts’ opinion on revamping a proposed gender-neutral military draft.

Congress also wants the U.S. National Commission on Military, National and Public Service to suggest methods to close the cultural gap between the conscript-free armed forces and private citizens by inspiring millennials to join.

On the Selective Service System, the commission is geared not so much to restarting a wartime draft but modernizing plans to fit the times. That could include requiring women — who are taking on all combat roles — to register for conscription, just as men have had to do since President Carter restarted the Selective Service in 1980.

The commission also may opt for a skills-targeted draft instead of looking at the process as a mass call-up of basic combat troops. Among the first to be drafted in a war might be doctors, dentists, mathematicians and internet wizards. They would be picked without regard to sex or age.

The Pentagon currently does not envision a need for mass mobilization.

With an initial $15 million budget, the 11-member panel is made up of former senior government officials and citizen activists whose final report will arrive in late 2019. The members were appointed by President Obama and by senior congressional Democrats and Republicans.

The members elected as chairman former Rep. Joseph Heck, a Nevada Republican, physician and actively drilling Army Reserve brigadier general whose current assignment is the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gen. Heck, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he expects the panel to receive weeks of briefings and start conducting field hearings and tours next year.

“The purpose behind the commission and the issue defined by Congress is, ‘How do we increase the desire, the propensity, the ethos for public service in today’s youth?’” Mr. Heck told The Washington Times.

The panel, he said, “will evaluate how the Selective Service currently operates and whether or not it should be changed to represent the 21st-century needs of the nation: who should have to register, whether it should be based on skill sets, whether it should just be for a military purpose or a more general purpose for national and public opportunities as well.”

Debra Wada, who held posts as a Democratic staffer for the House Armed Services Committee and an assistant Army secretary for manpower, is the vice chairwoman for military service. Former Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan is co-chairman for public service. Members were sworn in Sept. 19-21 during organizational meetings.

National service is defined as federal and state government jobs. Public service is defined as jobs in private organizations.

When military recruiters refer to today’s youths, they are talking about the oft-studied millennial generation that first reached young adulthood in the early 2000s. Millennials are sometimes profiled as self-centered “snowflakes” who protect their emotions, love cyberdevices and shun public service.

“You have a very small percentage of Americans who are serving,” said commission member Thomas Kilgannon, president of Freedom Alliance in Northern Virginia. He was appointed by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

The military’s active reserve force is about 2.1 million. The top brass call the force the best in history but lament the shrinking pool of recruits.

‘More of a family business’

“The concern is there is a disconnected between military veterans and the civilian community,” said Mr. Kilgannon, whose group aids wounded warriors and their families. “And we want to look at ways that we can bridge that gap, that we can have a greater pool of young Americans who have the desire and the propensity to serve so that recruiters are better able to do their jobs and continue with the all-volunteer force with quality individuals.”

The commission idea was inserted into the Pentagon’s 2017 budget bill last year as some conservatives and liberals moved legislation to require women to register for the draft. Leaders stopped that vote by saying Washington needed to first hear from the commission.

The country has always exempted women from registering with the Selective Service. But modern times have ushered in an age of gender equality, with the armed forces in the forefront.

Mr. Obama removed the last sex-based restriction by opening direct land combat roles to women. The Defense Department has established bureaucracies dedicated to one mission: sex and racial diversity.

Polls show the American public adores the U.S. armed forces even as it becomes more removed from the military culture.

Mr. Heck cited one study that found only 150,000 of 33 million people in the targeted 17-24 age group had a propensity to join the military and were qualified.

“That’s a very big discrepancy,” the former congressman said.

He said people with family members who have served are more likely to consider joining.

“It’s become more of a family business: ‘My grandfather served, my father served, therefore I serve,’” Mr. Heck said. “We have to look at why they are not interested or not able to get the information they need to want to serve.”

On the public service side, he said, “I can’t really remember the last time I saw a Peace Corps commercial on TV.”

A Navy lieutenant student at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, conducted a 2013 study on millennials and the military. Of nearly 500 millennials surveyed, only 10 percent said they “strongly considered” joining the armed forces. Nearly 50 percent said they have never or would never consider joining.

“Youth have little knowledge about the military and educational opportunities available,” the thesis found.

Elaine L. Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, said the commission is heavy on liberal members and could spend $45 million.

Not leaving it to President Trump, Mr. Obama appointed his allotted three members before he left office.

His appointments: Shawn Skelly, a transgender retired Navy commander and former Transportation Department executive; Avril Haines, a former White House principal deputy national security adviser under Susan E. Rice; and Janine Davidson, a Navy undersecretary during the tenure of Ray Mabus.

As Navy secretary, Mr. Mabus pushed a number of liberal causes, such as naming a warship after a gay rights activist and browbeating the Marine Corps to put women in ground combat.

Mrs. Donnelly said the panel is a creation of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, who wants women to register. Mr. McCain appointed his committee’s former general counsel, Steve Barney.

“Since Selective Service would not be activated unless there is a need for battlefield combat replacements, including women in a call-up of young men would hopelessly clog the system and detract from combat readiness at the worst possible time,” she said.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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