Observance’s falter may be symptomatic

opinions

November 3, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Recruiters are finding it difficult to get young people to join the armed forces.
According to The Economist: “That is part of a longstanding trend: a growing disconnect between American society and the armed forces that claim to represent it, which has many causes, starting with the ending of the draft in 1973. Ever since, military experience has been steadily fading from American life. In 1990, 40 percent of young Americans had at least one parent who had served … by 2014, only 16 percent had. … Among American leaders, the decline is similarly pronounced. In 1981, 64 percent of congressmen were veterans; now around 18 percent are.”
The reasons are predictable. On the one hand, potential recruits said they would be willing to serve if they could be assured of avoiding violence; a promise that can’t be made today with world’s situations being as volatile as they are.
Beyond that, many disqualify themselves because of personal circumstances.
The Economist reported about 23 million Americans are 17 to 21, the prime bracket for starting military service. Nearly half (9.5 million) fail to meet academic standards, from being dropouts or because they “can’t do tricky sums without a calculator.” A third are too fat, have a criminal record or other concerns.
Of the remainder, fewer than 400,000 are interested in serving, and for them the military has to compete against colleges and private firms, an outcome that “happens to the best of them.”
Unemployment nationwide is in the 6 percent range, which also is a detriment to recruiting; in more dire circumstances, the military is recourse for a paycheck.

SO WHAT are the military branches to do to maintain ranks filled with capable men and women?
Conscription in today’s political and social environments isn’t a likely option. It was during the Revolution. The Civil War and World War I saw a draft, with it ending abruptly after each.
Then, in 1940 a universal draft was re-instated when it became obvious the United States would enter World War II. In 1973, with the war in Vietnam waning, the draft ended.
Voluntary military service has been in place ever since — and took a hit with recent conflicts, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, where 5,366 Americans have died and tens of thousands have been wounded.
“Most young Americans associate the Army — which has the most trouble recruiting — with ‘coming home broken, physically, mentally and emotionally,’” James Ortiz, director of Army marketing, told The Economist.
Bonuses for signing on and a number of other enlistment perks have failed to help with recruitment.
“The result is that America may be unable, within reasonable cost limits and without reconstituting the draft, to raise the much bigger Army it might need” for a substantial war or prolonged conflict, The Economist concluded.

MEANWHILE, in the heartland patriotism is alive and well, most would argue, but some telltale signs suggest otherwise.
To wit: In a letter to the Register Monday, Becky Nilges, a member of the local veterans committee, begged locals to become involved in Saturday’s Veterans Day parade and associated observances designed  to recognize veterans and their families.
In recent years the annual event has fallen on hard times, drawing fewer and fewer parade entries and a  meager crowd. Nil-ges blamed poor attendance and participation on “a general lack of interest and support due to the busy lives we all seem to lead.”
Perhaps. But an hour or so once a year doesn’t seem like much to acknowledge someone who served several years for the nation, or to remember those who gave their lives.
— Bob Johnson

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