I just read through the briefing transcript from a "senior Defense official" on the all-volunteer force, and what it would mean if Congress adopted Rep. Charlie Rangel's ill-considered idea for a military draft. In the Pentagon, the moniker "senior Defense official" is often used for a high-ranking policy official who's a career public servant and does not want to have his/her name in the press. It usually means this information is pretty accurate, because it's coming from an expert instead of a political appointee. And in this case, I highly recommend this particular SDO's comments.
Here's an excerpt:
Q: I think he may -- I think if Charlie Rangel were sitting here -- and not to take his side, but to play devil's advocate, is in some ways your numbers are kind of proving his point that the very elite class in this country -- and again, pick your number on that, $75,000, $60,000 and up, $75,000 and up, and even higher -- are not who is sending people into enlisted ranks, combat troops, not going to get --
Senior Defense Officer: Well, let me remind everyone that combat and enlistment are two different statements.
Q: Of course.
Senior Defense Officer: The United States Air Force, the United States Navy, if it is largely going to be an air operation, it will be principally officers whose lives are at risk. Further, I think we have to, in an age of terrorism, rethink what we mean about combat exposure.
Let's take the September 11th attack on the Pentagon. More civilians died than military. In one service it was more women civilians died than military.
So this whole issue of who is exposed to risk, I'm struck in this debate -- Mr. Rangel and others who are raising this question are a bit of an echo out of the past. It's not really a description of current situations and current risks and who is bearing the burden. And I would argue that if -- once we look at the officers, you're going to see a different pattern than the critics are raising. Now, I don't have the officer numbers here this morning; I apologize for that point. But it's going to look a little different once you include the officer class in this.
Q: Rangel's basic point is that the powerful elite who make campaign contributions and who make decisions about war and peace don't have children that are represented in the military, by and large. And you don't have anything that sort of --
Senior Defense Officer: I don't think -- well, now we get down to sort -- almost the idiosyncratic level of debate, you know, who are the power elite? You know, if you look at the classes at our military academies -- West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs -- many people would argue you're looking at a future power elite there. And these are young men and young women who are quite willing to put their lives on the line, and do so, as you can see from the inscriptions on the various memorials at those institutions.
So there is no lack of willingness on the part of Americans from more privileged backgrounds -- to deal directly with Mr. Rangel's question -- to serve. And we see that also in the Reserves. I would urge each of you, you know, if you want -- no one has really done all this research in the comprehensive way that I think we'd all like to see, but I'd urge you to take the biographies of the flag officers in our Reserve and Guard establishment, and on any metric you like in terms of socioeconomic status, look at whether or not you think they qualify as being in the power elite. These are people who are often successful businessmen, businesswomen now increasingly, successful figures in their community; includes doctors who have joined Reserve units, are willing to serve; have been sent forward in some cases, mobilized a number of these people and sent them to Southwest Asia, are quite willing to expose themselves to the risks that I think Mr. Rangel is concerned.