On Dec. 1, 1969, 366 blue plastic capsules containing birthdates for every day of the year, including Feb. 29, held the fate of men born between 1944 and 1950. Unceremoniously, the capsules were first dumped into a cardboard box and then, having been shuffled, were dumped into a glass jar to be randomly chosen, one by one.
But this was a lottery with no million-dollar prize and, in fact, there would be no winners. When your number was up, so to speak, it meant that the Selective Service had chosen a place in line for those who would be drafted into the military. “001” was assigned to unlucky fellows born on Sep. 14.
Today, all males must register with the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
Is it possible that as conflicts expand we’ll reach the point where the draft, once again, becomes necessary?
If so, the pool of draftees we may need in the future is out there, one pen-stroke away from active duty.
Currently, the way the U.S. backfills for the number of troops needed is through multiple deployments, although some soldiers do volunteer for more than one tour. But the number of veterans with multiple tours of combat duty is the largest in modern American history.
And according to the Army Outreach Program headquartered at the Pentagon: “If a soldier’s unit is ordered to deploy, then he/she will deploy with them, regardless of circumstances.”
In other words, we’re mandating that one soldier should carry the weight of two, or three, or four, depending on the number of deployments.
You have to wonder, is our volunteer army really voluntary? How long will the enthusiasm to volunteer last?
And troop strength in numbers is not the only area where the U.S. military has a significant deficit. Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee chairs, Tom Thornberry and John McCain, respectively, have requested hefty increases in the 2018 defense budget for much needed training and hardware.
But if you take a closer look at budget details, you’ll find words in common that describe each branch of services’ deficits; words such as “the right number,” “capability and capacity,” and more explicitly, “manpower shortfalls.”
Last month, the Secretary of Defense informed us that thousands more troops will be sent to Afghanistan. Since there is no draft, those thousands will have to come from those already enlisted - volunteers? - those who must deploy, no matter how many tours they’ve already seen.
Also, Iraq is still in play where U.S. involvement is concerned. But because the Trump administration has broken policy from the Obama administration, they will no longer release the number of troops in Iraq, or the number that has been temporarily deployed.
Having given the Secretary of Defense “total authority” to determine troop strength, those now serving in Iraq and Syria are nameless and faceless, to Donald Trump, that is, certainly not to their loved ones. But it allows the commander-in-chief to distance himself from the reality of what our troops endure.
What’s most frightening is that Trump is a trigger-happy president. In December 2016, he said, “We have many options for Venezuela, including military options if necessary.” In April, he dropped the “mother of all bombs” on suspected Islamic State tunnels and munitions sites in Syria.
And the outcome of the Trump-North Korea stand-off depends on which leader is more unbalanced. Indeed, when Trump looks in the mirror, he sees Kim Jong Un, and vice verse.
This is where I would normally say, “I don’t want to sound like an alarmist. A draft will never happen.”
But we’ve been cautioning ourselves against thinking the worst for a long time, which hasn’t prevented the worst, beating out yesterday’s worst, from happening.
Something has to give, and the current body of troops has given more than should be asked of any soldier or Marine, no matter how brave they may be.
The strategy for ending these engagements has to be something other than adding more troops to the mayhem. At this point, our Department of Defense, and every administration for the last 14 years, has only succeeded in making headstones out of heroes.
Gloria Johns is a freelance writer living in San Angelo, Texas. Contact her at glo—firstname.lastname@example.org