Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Value of Service

For a while now, I've been wondering if the all-volunteer military is a good thing. I turned 18 during the Vietnam War, but my draft number was 303 and, because the lottery didn't go that high, I didn't have to decide choose between serving, applying to be a conscientious objector, or going to Canada.

At the time, I thought the draft unfair. Forty years later, I'm not so sure.

There's value in service, which is why when Barack Obama finishes dealing with the economic mess, I hope he follows through on his campaign promise to push for a bill requiring some form of national service for everybody.

Everyone ought to perform some kind of service to the country,
working in a hospital or teaching in an inner-city or rural school, particularly now when we face so many problems. But I've come to think it especially important we share the burden of defending America. When I read an editorial or op-ed in The Wall Street Journal supporting the war in Afghanistan or Iran, I always wonder how many people on the editorial board have a child in the military, or even know someone who does.

(I think the same thing when I read The New York Times or The Washington Post.)

There's this too: I wonder what it means long-term for our military--and our country--when so many recruits fail to meet basic educational standards. Time magazine has a story about how only 71 percent of recruits had high school diplomas in 2007, as compared with more than 85 percent just two years before.

Worse, it seems to me, is that the percentage of so-called high-quality recruits--those with a high school diploma and scoring in the 50th percentile of the Armed Forces Qualification Test--dropped from 56.2 percent in 2005 to 44.6 percent in 2007.

The Department of Defense wants 90 percent of its recruits to have a high school diploma or better. Those who do are more likely to finish their first term of enlistment. About half of those who don't drop out before finishing their first enlistment.

Some numbers I came across from The National Priorities Project
supported something I've suspected for a long time. Most recruits come from families with incomes of $30,000-54,999. Few come from families with incomes of more than $60,000 a year.

No one in the Department of Defense would put it like this, but don't all these numbers seem to say we're getting a dumber, poorer service?

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