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Rumors of a new draft are swirling

[ From DemocracyNow! (4/3/04):

Gov’t Proposes Extending Draft to Women. Hearst newspapers has obtained government documents that show the chief of the Selective Service System has proposed registering women for the military draft, expanding the draft age from 25 to 35, as well as requiring that young Americans regularly inform the government about whether they have training in niche specialties needed in the armed services. The proposal was made by the agency’s acting director Lewis Brodsky prior to the invasion of Iraq. The paper obtained the previously secret proposal through the Freedom of Information Act.

–BL ]

May 2, 2004 | Standard-Times

by STEVE URBON

Local draft board members say they don’t think they’re going to get the go-ahead, but if word does come, they stand ready to begin sending those dreaded “greetings” to eligible young men in the region.

Stephen Guinen of Fall River isn’t among those who think there will be a return to the military draft soon in this country — and he’s attuned to the situation: Mr. Guinen is one of five members of the draft board for Greater Fall River.

“I don’t believe its going to happen,” he told The Standard-Times. “I don’t believe there’ll be a draft unless there’s an all-out war.”

Referring to a bill introduced last year by two Democratic congressmen, Mr. Guinen said, “Someone is trying put a smoke screen up. Some people are for this Iraq thing and some are against it. Some people against it want to cause a little public outcry as far as the draft board is concerned.”

As of January 2003, that was almost certainly the case. Identical bills, H163 and S89, known as the Universal National Service Act of 2003, were aimed at “requiring that all young persons in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes.”

Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., who co-sponsored the bill along with Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said bluntly at the time that they were making a political point. “One way to avoid a lot more wars to come is institute the draft,” Sen. Hollings said in a New York Times interview. “You will find that this country will sober up, and its leadership, too.”

But that was before the war in Iraq, in which the Pentagon predicted that U.S. forces, once Saddam Hussein was removed from power, would be reduced to 30,000 by September of last year. Instead, there are five times that many there today, and many military experts say that many more are needed just to provide basic security.

While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continues to praise the performance of the all-volunteer military, it is becoming more difficult to maintain troop strength in Iraq and in the other places where the military is deployed. More than 60 percent of the Army’s fighting force is reportedly deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and the Balkans. Troops are also deployed in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

In Iraq, National Guard forces recently accounted for 20 percent of the troops, and that number is expected to increase to 40 percent. There is talk of calling up retired reservists, and some families have complained that the manpower-hungry Pentagon is ignoring reservists’ medical conditions when screening them for what is essentially combat duty.

In December, when a “stop-loss” order blocked the departure of 40,000 service members from Iraq, then-presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, complained, “The Army’s refusal to release tens of thousands of soldiers who have completed their terms of service amounts to drafting them on the very day they fulfill their obligations. These men and women have already risked their lives. They should not have to risk them a second time through involuntary service, through being forced to serve in Iraq. This is a draft. A draft forces people to serve involuntarily.”

Stop-loss was invoked again last month when 20,000 U.S. soldiers due to return home had their tours extended at least three months beyond the full year that most have already served in Iraq. The majority are regular Army, but thousands are from the National Guard and Reserve.

The Washington Post recently reported that Pentagon officials have raised the possibility that “the next rotation of forces into Iraq planned to start in September and run through January could be moved up to sustain the higher troop level after the current extensions end. That means some troops who were promised a full year at home before being sent back into Iraq will see that promise broken.

quietly mobilized

When Iraq war commenced, the Selective Service System quietly mobilized to fill vacancies in the 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board seats that are spread from coast to coast.

Lee Holton, the Selective Service’s 16-state Region 1 programs manager, told The Standard-Times, “There are no actual draft boards because there’s no draft. They’re local boards, in standby status, basically.”

That may change soon — but no one believes it will be before the November election. Few politicians believe it would be anything but political suicide to push it before then.

Nonetheless, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Foreign Relations committee, said that the nation should consider reviving the draft to help ensure that all Americans “bear some responsibility … pay some price” in defending the nation, according to The Washington Post.

At a committee hearing and in interviews, he said, he was not advocating a new draft, although he said he is “not so sure that it isn’t a bad idea.”
There has been no draft since 1973, at the end of the Vietnam era, and the all-volunteer military that top brass once opposed is now staunchly defended by those same officers.

Since the local boards, and mandatory registration for males at age 18, were reinstituted in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter, Selective Service has quietly maintained the bureaucracy, staffed mainly by thousands of volunteers. A 20-year limit on their terms meant that the year 2000 saw an exodus that required a recruitment drive by Selective Service.

Some of it was achieved by word-of-mouth, or the Selective Service’s Web site invitation. One New Bedford local board member, who asked not to be named in this story, signed up two years ago at the urging of a friend who was on the board, he said. He filled a vacancy left by a 20-year member who was forced to retire.

He, Mr. Guinen and others in Bristol County attended an annual training session in March to familiarize local board members with proper procedures in the event a draft is reinstated. The training, led by regular military personnel on assignment to Selective Service, included role-playing and a focus on drafting medical personnel — EMTs, doctors, nurses.

Targeted draft

Hearst Newspapers recently reported that the government was in the first stages “toward a targeted military draft of Americans with special skills in computers and foreign languages. That arose, the news service said, after Pentagon officials suggested a need for more people in those areas. This was in addition to a plan already in place to register and draft health care personnel between the ages of 20 and 44, which was the topic of the recent training exercises.
Meanwhile, while active-duty re-enlistment rates stay strong, with help from $10,000 bonuses now offered by the Army, The Denver Post reported that recruiting of reservists is dropping. While the desired retention rate is 85 percent, it dropped to as low as 71 percent in Colorado last year. An Army officer was quoted by the Post as saying, “They are getting out because of personal reasons, promotions at work … and stress on the family.”

Mr. Guinen said he recently received a letter from Selective Service announcing a suspension of the annual training because of budget cuts, and the Hollings-Rangel “bring back the draft” bill has gone nowhere so far, with no Senate co-sponsors and just 13 sponsors in the House.

And Selective Service’s Web site — www.sss.gov — firmly rejects the speculation that a move is imminent:

“Notwithstanding recent stories in the news media and on the Internet, Selective Service is not getting ready to conduct a draft for the U.S. Armed Forces — either with a special skills or regular draft. Rather, the agency remains prepared to manage a draft if and when the president and the Congress so direct. This responsibility has been ongoing since 1980 and is nothing new.

“Further, both the president and the Secretary of Defense have stated on more than one occasion that there is no need for a draft for the War on Terrorism or any likely contingency, such as Iraq. Additionally, the Congress has not acted on any proposed legislation to reinstate a draft. Therefore, Selective Service continues to refine its plans to be prepared as is required by law, and to register young men who are ages 18 through 25.”

This story appeared on Page B1 of The Standard-Times on May 2, 2004.

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