Published on Tuesday, June 21, 2005 by the Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)
Recruitment Shortfalls Show This War Not Needed
by Tad Bartimus
This spring, Army, Air Force and Marine recruiters came to our little town's high school on separate days to woo the 31 members of the class of 2005.
As the war we can't win drags on in Iraq, military recruiters, desperate for warm bodies to fill their quotas, are cruising schools, malls and popular hangouts all across our country for recruits. They've even driven the 52 miles down our one-lane road in search of future soldiers.
The headhunters each sat under spreading monkey pod trees, talking one-on-one with kids between their English and health classes. Good at their hard jobs, the veterans tapped into the kids' dreams of adulthood with promises of job training and education benefits. Not much was said about the 1,700 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq, or about the continued fighting there.
So far there's no word that any graduate has enlisted; I hope no one does. I know every one of these kids. Each is precious and special, and deserves a long, full life of health and opportunity surrounded by loved ones. None deserves to be sent into the quagmire that 60 percent of Americans responding to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll thinks the Iraq war has become.
Longtime reservists and career-minded professional soldiers are opting out of staying in the service because the danger and financial hardships of repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan are wrecking their lives, careers and families.
For the fourth month in a row, the Army fell short of its enlistment goals. Out of desperation, recruiters reportedly are signing up less-qualified and stable recruits who inevitably will weaken our all-volunteer military.
This downward trend is bittersweet for a patriotic American who grew up admiring so many soldiers who've kept our country safe since the time of Gen. George Washington. I opposed the Vietnam War but supported a brother, a father and many brave friends who fought in it. In my family, every male as far back as we can remember has served honorably overseas in combat. As a student of history as well as a journalist, I understand that sometimes war is necessary to preserve peace.
But Vietnam was not that kind of war; neither is Iraq.
In the Vietnam era of the 1960s, a favorite peacenik slogan was "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" Well, guess what? It's happening.
Against a backdrop of political confusion over how to disengage without having Iraq implode, it falls to military recruiters to troll for young men and women who think they have few options and so are susceptible to a polished pitch that could kill them.
Rod Nordland, Newsweek magazine's departing Baghdad bureau chief, recently wrote in his farewell story that "living and working in Iraq, it's hard not to succumb to despair" because the $7 billion so far spent on reconstruction has yielded pitiful improvement in the lives of ordinary Iraqis, and because U.S. soldiers there are "overworked, much ignored on the home front, and widely despised." He claimed the mission of American troops there "is self-defense at any cost - which only deepens Iraqis' resentment."
Parents need to make sure their child understands the risks as well as the rewards if they're targeted by a military recruiter trying to fill a monthly quota. If they don't, signing an enlistment contract in ignorance could become a fatal mistake.
Tad Bartimus is a reporter for the Associated Press.
© 2005 Capital Times