Politics & Policy

America’s Depleted Army

Young men needed to serve.

One week after September 11, President George W. Bush stood with a bullhorn amid the ruins of Ground Zero. “I hear you!” said the president. “And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” In a subsequent speech before Congress, President Bush rallied the nation with an unequivocal message. “We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.”

President Bush remains committed to the fight, but has sent a mixed message by allowing the United States’s volunteer force to be stretched too thin. Soldiers deployed in the war, including women serving at greater risk than ever before, are doing everything expected of them. But we are asking too much of a relative few. Active duty, National Guard, and Reserve troops are being deployed too often for longer tours of duty. If the worldwide threat of terrorism justifies more troops and more time, President Bush should ask for more volunteers. It is not enough to ask the nation to go shopping.

There are many tasks that are being accomplished by courageous gender-mixed units. The greatest need, however, is for men for the combat arms. This includes Army and Marine infantry, Special Operations Forces, and small Military Transition Teams charged to train Iraqi men how to fight. The president, however, has yet to ask young men to enlist. The vacuum invites calls to reinstate the draft, expanded to include civilians in some sort of “national service.”

But mandatory service requirements are not necessary. The day may come when a catastrophic national emergency comparable to World War II justifies reinstitution of a military draft, but that is not the case now. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 8 million young men between the ages of 18 to 21. Many would not qualify, but thousands would respond if President Bush specifically asked them to serve. The president’s upcoming speech to the nation may be his last opportunity to issue such an appeal. This president and future commanders-in-chief who believe that a war is worth fighting should demonstrate that conviction by asking young men to volunteer for the combat arms.

In the absence of such a call, Army officials have scrambled to fill the ranks of close combat units in inappropriate ways. Without authorization by the secretary of defense, and in violation of current regulations and law, the Army has ordered female soldiers into direct-groundcombat battalions, such as the infantry, which are required to be all male.

We honor and respect the service of our military women — more than 85 of whom have been killed in the war since 9/11. It is wrong, however, for the Bush Administration to allow the Pentagon to violate policy and law regarding women in or near direct ground combat. The president should restore the Army to compliance, and put an end to unneeded gender-based affirmative action quotas that have driven up the numbers of young women and mothers going to war.

The hideous attacks of September 11 were the beginning of what many are calling World War IV — a prolonged, global struggle that is not limited to the boundaries of Iraq. In many ways this challenge is worse than World War III, the Cold War.

Sustaining or increasing the number of deployed troops is one thing — recruiting and sending the right type of troops would send an even more serious message. Military effectiveness should not be compromised by political correctness in a prolonged war that America must win.

 –Elaine Donnelly is the president of the Center for Military Readiness.

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