U.S. Army officials said on Monday of this week that its enlistment program is in trouble. Recruiters have been missing their monthly quota by 15 percent. Itâ€™s the second month in a row for the shortfall, even though these are traditionally the best three months for recruiting, due to June student graduations.
Writing in Harperâ€™s magazine, Edward Luttwak notes that senior military officials are concerned that it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from a “death spiral” in which “readiness ratings are starting to unravel” with recruiting efforts “encountering serious quality and number problems.” The problem is twofold: troops are weary, with extended tours of duty for both the regular Army and the Reserves. Lt. Gen. James Helmly, head of the 205,000 member Army Reserve told USA Today that he is worried about retention rates. “This is the first extended duration war the country has fought with an all-volunteer force,” said Helmly. “The National Guard and Reserve were designed to mobilize for big wars and then bring soldiers home quickly.”
The regular Army is facing challenges of a different sort. While reenlistments are encouraging, the initial efforts at signing up recruits are not. In order to meet its numbers, writes Josh White in The Washington Post, “Recruiters are offering higher incentives to join by broadening its potential pool by offering wavers – for physical conditions and violating the law – to people who normally would not qualify.” Thousands of volunteers who previously would have been classified as unfit are now in the armed forces. The percentage of high school drop-outs entering the service has reached its highest level since 1981. [The American Conservative, June 4, 2007]
This blogger wrote in Blogger News Network in November of last year (Bring Back the Draft) that ABC Television had caught on videotape Army recruiters telling high school students that the war was over and that soldiers were no longer being sent overseas. One member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, has even proposed bringing back the draft, saying we canâ€™t find the needed additional troops without one. Rangel says an all-volunteer army is inequitable, luring recruits, who otherwise would not consider a military career, into the military with promises of free training, education, and enlistment bonuses.
Recruiters also say sagging enlistment levels are also a result of lack of encouragement from the “influencers,” as a Washington Post article notes. Parents, coaches, and others who can affect decisions are now remaining silent. They know that enlisting in the Army or Marine Corps means an eventual taste of the battlefield and the risk of death or dismemberment. The Post quotes a Pentagon official: “If you donâ€™t think thatâ€™s affecting the influencers, then you have your head under a rock.”
Extended tours of duty for members of the Reserve and National Guard also have the potential of drawing down the numbers substantially. There is a little-known order known as the Stop Loss Policy in which soldiers on active duty are prohibited from leaving the service. In other words, even though your enlistment is up, if you have been rotated overseas, there you will stay under the rest of your unit is sent home. Some military officials believe these involuntary extensions of duty could trigger an exodus of forces once they make it back home. The Army is currently short 3,000 commissioned officers. The National Guard and Reserves have a shortage of 7,500 officers.
The situation only gets worse if one takes seriously the possibility that Americaâ€™s battlefield commitment to the war on terrorism could expand. The New York Times has reported on a debate within the Bush administration on whether to attack Iran. The Times says the hawks inside the administration, especially those in Vice President Dick Cheneyâ€™s office, are “pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.” Thus the question arises, how is the U.S. going to fight a war on an additional front when our troop strength is dwindling and recruitment efforts are faltering? The answer that keeps recurring is revive the draft.
To make matters even worse (if thatâ€™s possible) the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, says fighting the insurgents there “could take decades.” In an interview with the British Broadcasting System (BBC), Petraeus compared Americaâ€™s role in Iraq to that of the British in Northern Ireland. “My counterparts in your British forces really understand this kind of operation. Northern Ireland took a long time, decades. I donâ€™t know whether this will be decades, but the average counter insurgency is somewhere around a nine or 10-year endeavor.”
Petraeus then went on to assert that a number of troops would be required to remain in Iraq, even after a “withdrawal” takes place. Petraeus is scheduled to return to Washington in September to report on the “surge” campaignâ€™s progress, in which some 30,000 extra U.S. troops were deployed. So far, April, May and June have been the deadliest three months for U.S. troops since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
All of these developments point to a need for more fresh troops to replace the battle weary soldiers who have been on the front lines well beyond the anticipated time frame. A study by The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) says that even before the war on terror opened, the U.S. armed services were already understaffed. “The only way to resolve this serious shortage,” says the AEI, “is to bring back the draft. A draft would dramatically upgrade the quality of U.S. recruits, because it would give the military access to a true cross-section of our youth.”
Those who support a twenty-first century draft (including this blogger) believe that the current all-volunteer force allows the privileged to avoid military service. It promotes a “disconnect” between the military and society. When Americaâ€™s armed forces go to war, all of America should go to war. If the children of Americaâ€™s elite faced the prospect of performing military service, perhaps politicians and the captains of industry would take a declaration of war much more seriously.