WASHINGTON -- Although blacks are overrepresented in the U.S. military, they do not face a disproportionate risk of death in combat, according to a House Armed Services Committee report released yesterday.
The report, which was released by committee Chairman Les Aspin, D-Wis., said there was no basis for the contention that blacks in the all-volunteer force must bear a heavier burden of combat than whites.
"The exposure to combat likely for blacks . . . does not justify the charge that the fighting and dying in future wars would be done by blacks . . . and that the all-volunteer system is unfair," the report said.
Before the Persian Gulf war began in January, black leadercomplained that black soldiers faced a greater risk of fighting and dying than whites.
The report also dismissed the suggestion that resuming the draft would make the racial makeup of the U.S. military more representative of the U.S. population and, therefore, fairer in terms of combat risk.
It said that a conscripted force probably would be made up of less-qualified soldiers and suffer morale problems.
"Resuming a draft in order to achieve a military that better meets an abstract notion of representativeness would be a grave mistake," said Mr. Aspin.
"Today, we have a race-neutral voluntary system that produces a superb military while offering individuals advancement on the basis of merit," he added. "If that makes the military more attractive to blacks than job prospects in the society at large, then it is the society at large that is broken. Let's fix that."
Blacks made up 11.1 percent of the active-duty military force i 1971, two years before the draft ended. The all-volunteer force now includes nearly 422,000 blacks, or about 21 percent of the total force, according to the General Accounting Office of Congress.
That is nearly double the proportion of blacks in the overall population, and almost twice the proportion of blacks in the military two decades ago, when the Pentagon was heavily dependent on draftees.
During the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf, some members of Congress feared that a disproportionately high percentage of blacks would die in the war.
But Mr. Aspin's committee report noted that blacks made up 15 percent of the U.S. combat deaths in the gulf war. As of yesterday, the number of combat deaths in Operation Desert Storm totaled 145.
In future wars involving land, sea and air forces, the committee projected that blacks exposed to combat would be about 18 percent of the total force.
If the war were limited to an air campaign, the percentage would drop to 4 percent to 5 percent. In a naval campaign only, it would be 5 percent to 10 percent.
[Today, blacks make up 29 percent of the Army, 15 percent of the Air Force, 16 percent of the Navy, and 19 percent of the Marine Corps, the Associated Press reported.
[Of military officers, blacks make up 7.1 percent, compared with 2.3 percent in 1971, the AP said.]