Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 25, 2007

Draftees can't meet the Army's needs

William Pfaff's column on reinstating the draft reflects an abysmal understanding of why the draft was created, of the nature of military culture and of the demands of contemporary warfare ("Both parties in denial on need for draft," Opinion

Commentary, Aug. 20).

War in the 20th century became chiefly a matter of a nation's capacity to bring its industrial might to bear against its opponent.

The draft was the military equivalent to the assembly line - offering mass-produced soldiers quickly trained, equipped and sent into the fight in, the combatants hoped, numbers and effectiveness greater than those drafted by the enemy.

In World War II, for instance, despite the quality of the German army, the sheer weight of the numbers of machines and men (raised by the draft) opposing it over six years of war produced total German defeat.

Today, the Army needs highly trained, intelligent, adaptable and thoughtful soldiers.

It takes at least a year to train a soldier to meet the demands of modern war, and especially of a form of war as complicated and trying as counter-insurgency.

With an army raised by a draft, the troops would either be inadequately trained or only available to serve overseas for a matter of months before reaching the end of their tour of duty - unless troops were drafted for at least three-year tours of duty.

But, given the political unpopularity of a draft, there is no way in the world the United States would institute a three-year draft.

This constraint would make the military units composed of draftees almost useless in a counterinsurgency situation in which it takes a soldier at least six or seven months to learn the culture of the region and the nature of the enemy.

Paul Melody

Gainesville, Va.

The writer is a retired U.S. Army officer and a defense consultant.

Draft encourages endless warfare

In the 1960s, anti-war activists asked a question: "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?"

The point was, of course, that without the endless supply of bodies provided by a draft, U.S. presidents could not fight endless wars like the Vietnam War.

The draft allowed U.S. presidents to keep U.S. forces in Vietnam for two decades.

By the war's end, official figures counted 57,690 Americans killed and 163,329 wounded.

William Pfaff and others now propose that we restore the draft, which would provide an endless supply of bodies so that President Bush could continue to fight his war in Iraq and possibly move on to destabilize the area further by starting a war with Iran ("Both parties in denial on need for draft," Opinion

Commentary, Aug. 20).

But the draft was ended precisely to cut off such an endless supply of bodies. And the lack of a draft will ultimately force us out of Iraq ("Surge forces to start leaving next April," Aug. 18).

And that, as someone might explain to Mr. Pfaff, was - and is - the point of eliminating the draft.

Lynda Lambert

Baltimore

Cadet just wasn't fit to be a firefighter

While the death of fire cadet Racheal M. Wilson was tragic, it underscores another issue that has remained untouched by those investigating the Fire Department's negligence ("Deadly neglect at Fire Academy," Aug. 21).

The basic truth ignored by their report is that Ms. Wilson should never have been hired as a firefighter or paramedic to begin with because of her limited physical capability.

She was 5 feet 4 inches tall and 192 pounds.

The fire service is a physically demanding job that requires not only strength but also muscular endurance and good cardio-pulmonary stamina.

It is a task-oriented career that can be very difficult for those in prime physical condition, let alone for someone so overweight.

But across the nation fire departments are being pressured to hire recruits to satisfy concerns about gender and cultural diversity, regardless of whether the person hired is physically capable of doing the job.

Federal guidelines dictate nationwide hiring practices and departments struggle to meet diversity requirements.

The issue of compromised standards is discussed at fire stations around the country every week, as departments continue to hire firefighters who do not meet agility standards.

This issue is not about race or gender as much as it is about the quality of service when the emergency call comes in.

Brother and sister firefighters and paramedics do not care about age, skin color, hair length or political affiliations as long as the person riding next to them on the fire engine can do the required job.

Unfortunately, not everyone is gifted with adequate size and strength to be a firefighter and no amount of training can alter that fact very much.

And Ms. Wilson no more belonged in fire gear than she would have belonged in shoulder pads and an NFL jersey.

All of this does not excuse the mistakes made by the Fire Academy during the live-burn exercise.

However, as the report on the incident notes, Ms. Wilson was unable even to hold a hose line.

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