2005-06-02 / This Week's Attitude

Military’s Singin’ The GI Blues As Recruitment Dips

This Week
By Neil S. Friedman

Nostalgia buffs probably remember when the familiar poster at right was a key ingredient in the military’s recruiting drive. It likely encouraged many young men to enlist and fight for this country in World War II. Today, if it was recycled, the poster would have to be amended to read, “Uncle Sam REALLY Wants You!” because nationwide military recruiting is the lowest it’s been in decades.

Is anyone, other than recruiters, surprised that enlistment quotas for the Army and Marine Corps — the two services engaged in ground action in the Middle East — are declining? After all, there’s been no let-up in the number of GIs killed since we initiated the war in Iraq three years ago. With a spike in soldiers’ deaths this month due to increased insurgent activity, it is unlikely the situation will be reversed anytime soon. And that could mean longer in country tours of duty, which could result in lowering morale more than it reportedly already is, not to mention continued enlistment shortfalls.

With the U.S. global military commitment stretched to the limit, New York Congressman Charles Rangel recently revived his proposal to reinstate the draft to meet current and future needs. However, the chance of that happening, short of another major conflict, stands as much of a chance as Saddam Hussein ruling Iraq again.

As a result of the worsening recruiting deficit, it’s even been suggested that the ban on women in infantry and combat units be lifted. While women can be fighter pilots there’s little chance they’ll see action with infantry units during the Iraqi campaign.

It’s been about 30 years since the draft was discarded in favor of an all-volunteer Army. It seemed promising and practical for many years, but now that push has come to shove, its Achilles’ heel has been revealed with the recent dip in enlistments. Except for the Gulf War in 1991, military volunteers have merely been involved in a handful of skirmishes that put them in harm’s way.

In peacetime the military might seem an appealing alternative for adolescents with undefined career goals or whose families can’t afford to send them to college. But, it’s another thing when the country is caught up in a full-scal, albeit questionable, war that, so far, has left more than 1,500 GIs dead and has been decidedly short on equipment and manpower. And polls show, the war is steadily growing more unpopular every day.

There are an estimated 60 million men and women — between 18 and 35 — ripe for military service, but as enlistment figures bear out, not many of them are eager to serve in a campaign that more and more seems to have little connection to America’s freedom. Pentagon officials are cautiously optimistic that the upcoming class of high school graduates will spur enlistment, however, it is doubtful that it will solve the military’s short-term predicament and long-term problems vis-à-vis the volunteer Army.

I recall when the draft lottery went into affect in the 60s to bolster the military’s ranks for the escalating war in Vietnam. I also remember thousands of draft-eligible young men, who breathed a collective sigh of relief when they’re number was likely too high to get called. However, millions with lower numbers, including myself, soon got the dreaded “Greetings” letter from the Selective Service Department and were reluctantly called to military service hoping after a few months of training they wouldn’t be shipped to a Southeast Asian combat zone halfway around the world.

With the passing of Memorial Day on Monday, it is quite obvious the generation of Americans eligible for military service is not anxious to have their names added to the honored dead in an increasingly unpopular war.

Wearing one’s patriotism on one’s sleeve — or by affixing a decal or bumper sticker to one’s car — to prove one’s undying loyalty in one’s country doesn’t mean much when few are willing to defend that conviction.

A popular chant from anti-war demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War was, “Hell no, we won’t go!” It seems that decades-old mantra has resurfaced in the minds of young Americans, who obviously don’t want “to be all they can be” And military recruiters singing the GI blues are trying to figure out the quickest way to change their tune.

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