Dates To Remember:
Friday, July 2, 2004
Call-ups have some feeling a draft
By BART JANSEN, Staff Writer
When rumors circulated in May about the military reinstating a draft, Sam Peisner went on the Internet and distributed information to his classmates at Portland High School.
He mentioned his concerns to a friend, Jeff Beam of Turner, who spread the word to his friends at Leavitt Area High School.
Pentagon officials and lawmakers - including Maine's entire congressional delegation - say there's no chance of a draft being reinstated, despite a need for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, many peace activists and young people like Peisner and Beam don't believe the politicians. They're worried that young men and women may be conscripted against their will, and they're trying to fight it.
"It seemed like it could turn into a Vietnam situation," said Peisner, 17, who will be a senior in the fall. "The possibility of giving me a gun and saying shoot another person is just not in my mind-frame. Just the possibility of that happening is what scared me the most about this."
Similar fears are percolating throughout Maine and the nation, according to advocates for several groups opposed to the war in Iraq.
"I think people are very concerned about the possibility of the draft being reinstated," said Rosalie Tyler Paul of Georgetown, a member of the Maine Peace and Justice Committee of the American Friends Service Committee.
She regularly gives presentations to high school students about choices other than joining the military voluntarily. After spring meetings in Lewiston and Augusta, she believes students and parents are growing more uneasy about a possible draft.
"It all feels very uncomfortable," Paul said. "I think there are other ways of solving problems."
Federal officials firmly deny that any plans for a draft are afoot. Most prominently, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected the idea at an April meeting of newspaper editors. He argued that the draft trained people for relatively short periods of service rather than the more cost-effective recruitment of volunteers for the long term.
"My answer is no; I don't know anyone in the executive branch of the government who believes that it would be appropriate or necessary to reinstitute the draft," he said in response to a question.
Rumsfeld reiterated his position Thursday in an interview with a San Diego radio station. He told KOGO he "can't imagine" any circumstances under which a draft would be necessary.
Bills were introduced at the start of the 2003 session of Congress to create a military draft for men and women from 18 to 26 years old. Conscripts would have to serve for two years, unless exempted for joining voluntarily or serving in the armed forces or in a civilian capacity that promotes defense. Exemptions for marriage or college wouldn't be recognized, as in the past.
But the House version, from Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has only 13 co-sponsors in a chamber with 435 seats. The Senate version, from Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., has no co-sponsors. Neither version has had a hearing yet.
Concerns about a draft are kindled by widely reported shortages of troops. About 135,000 U.S. troops serve in Iraq. The Pentagon extended the deployments of 20,000 troops in April by up to four months in order to keep the expertise in certain units, including the 94th Military Police Company, which contains several members from Maine.
Another flashpoint erupted when the Pentagon announced that individual soldiers would have to stay in Iraq as long as their units remain, rather than heading home when individual terms were up. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. and his party's presumptive presidential nominee, recently criticized the so-called "stop-loss" program, labeling it a "back-door draft."
This week, the Defense Department announced plans to recall 5,600 troops, including at least 51 Mainers who had already left the military but have served fewer than eight years.
The overseas conflicts have prompted parents to withhold permission to join the military voluntarily. Lt. Col. John Goulet, the recruiting and retention manager for the Maine Army National Guard, said recruitment in Maine is down 34 percent from last year.
"As far as recruitment, a lot of the problem isn't from the young people who sign up, but from their parents," said Maj. Peter Rogers, a spokesman for the Maine Guard.
David Clark, 19, of Portland is considering joining the Army after attending the University of Southern Maine for a year. But he would prefer to join the reserves to remain in Maine.
"I would join the military police for work because I am interested in law enforcement," he said. "I think if you get drafted it's even worse - I'd rather go in myself than get drafted."
No member of Maine's congressional delegation supports a draft or thinks one is likely.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and a member of the Armed Services Committee, is opposed because she believes the volunteer force has been "a tremendous success." She said the mandatory two-year terms proposed for a draft would reduce training for troops while drastically increasing costs. The military is better served by men and women who want to be there, Collins said.
"At this time, I do not see any need for the Department of Defense to reinstate a military draft," she said.
Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, voted last week to add 20,000 soldiers to the Army.
"However, I remain resolute that reinstating the draft is not a solution," Snowe said.
Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, said the military should study its needs and perhaps increase its active-duty strength through recruitment. But he said a draft wouldn't relieve the problems that stretched troops thin in Iraq.
"I oppose the reinstatement of the draft and believe it very unlikely Congress will consider legislation to do so," Allen said.
Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine and a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said reinstating the draft would be a bad idea. He said the U.S. military is the best trained in the world because volunteers are committed to the effort for their careers. But he argued that people shouldn't be forced to serve.
"Military service for our country is an honorable choice, and we as a nation are indebted to those who serve," Michaud said. "However, individuals do not need to put on the uniform to show their love of country or to serve the greater good."
Skeptics remain, however. Larry Dansinger of Monroe, who belongs to the group Maine Draft and Military Counselors, contends that voluntary recruitment is already a "poverty draft" because poor students and the indigent in economically depressed states like Maine find few options to serving in the military.
He said rumors about a formal draft, spread by word of mouth and the Internet, prompted questions about how to become a conscientious objector or what kind of exemptions would be allowed.
"We're providing information to people who want to understand their situation better," he said.
Jack Bussel of Maine Veterans for Peace said he believes nothing would happen before the Nov. 2 election because a draft would be a disaster for either Republicans or Democrats. But the shortage of troops has him suspicious about what could happen in 2005.
"I do think if the situation remains the same - even if it doesn't worsen - there is going to be a big need to get more troops to go in," said Bussel, who spent 20 years in the Army and retired as a chief warrant officer. "I do think it's a possibility, but I don't think it's a possibility before November."
For Peisner, the Portland High student, his opposition to a military draft has ignited an interest in politics.
Peisner said none of his friends who previously supported President Bush or the war in Iraq does so any more. His friend Beam said he contacted each member of the congressional delegation to voice his opposition to a draft.
While circulating copies of draft legislation to classmates, Beam, too, became interested in public affairs.
"A lot of people were talking about it," he said.
Staff Writer Jonathan Perez contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Bart Jansen can be contacted at 202-488-1119 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org