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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Volunteers needed

Uncle Sam needs ’em November 1, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.


Just in time for Halloween season, scary news:

The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force--Christine Wormuth, Frank Kendall and Carlos Del Toro, respectively--just published a joint commentary in The Wall Street Journal asking young qualified Americans to consider signing up.

The plea likely won't register a blip on the national pop culture-obsessed radar. But it's much more important to the country than a celebrity divorce. America's military, facing an historic recruiting shortage, needs more boots on the ground. And shoes on the polished floor. The secretaries implored their target market to consider this: "Today more than ever, the armed forces need data scientists, coders and engineers as much as we need pilots, submariners and infantry."

In its just released 2023 Index of U.S. Military Strength, the Heritage Foundation warns that America's global leadership role remains in question and its security interests under "substantial" pressure.

Long-standing allies aren't what they used to be (they never are), and the United States continues to bedevil itself with debt and domestic discord, threatening the ability to sustain its military forces at a level "commensurate with its interests." Which is the 50-cent way of saying the country needs to be ready to fight major wars in two different theaters--which has been American policy since such a thing was thrust upon us all in 1941.

The current Heritage Foundation assessment says the post-WWII American-led global order is under the most stress since its founding. Some analysts wonder whether this order can survive the fiscal and economic burdens exacerbated by covid and the war in Europe, not to mention the continued threat of non-state extremists who threaten the stability of entire regions.

"As currently postured, the U.S. military is at growing risk of not being able to meet the demands of defending America's vital national interests. It is rated as weak relative to the force needed to defend national interests on a global stage against actual challenges in the world as it is rather than as we wish it were.

"This is the logical consequence of years of sustained use, under-funding, poorly defined priorities, wildly shifting security policies, exceedingly poor discipline in program execution, and a profound lack of seriousness across the national security establishment even as threats to U.S. interests have surged."

Well.

The report assessed the viability of America's hard military power in large-scale, conventional operations and the ability to defend U.S. interests "against major enemies in contemporary or near-future combat operations." Branches were graded on a scale that ranges from very strong to very weak. In the report's executive summary, the Army was given a score of marginal, same as its 2021 score; the Navy was downgraded from marginal to weak; the Air Force was rated as very weak after consecutive downgrades; and the Marines were upgraded from marginal to strong. (The metrics aren't yet available to fully assess the newest branch, the U.S. Space Force.)

"Of the five services, the Corps is the only one that has a compelling story for change, has a credible and practical plan for change, and is effectively implementing its plan to change."

Semper fi, y'all.

All in all, it wasn't a good report card. One B, two C's and an F. (See the full report at Heritage.org.)

The secretaries closed their WSJ commentary with a statement that should catch our eyes. Like a fishhook:

"The military can and must do more to recruit and retain America's finest, but we need America behind us. We must ask ourselves how we can help ensure that there is a new generation able and inspired to carry on the nation's proud, selfless and distinguished legacy of service."

Let that sink in: ". . . We need America behind us."

If America's armed forces can't protect our interests, then DEI, ice caps and former presidents on Twitter will become the least of our worries, and quickly. And if fewer and fewer young people are willing to volunteer to help protect the country . . . then what? Re-institution of the draft? As unlikely as that sounds, it's not impossible. The country has had many drafts. Many countries still have them. But it would upend a generation's worth of an all-volunteer force, and might upend a lot of other things.

Could today's United States ever again be so united as it was in 1941? Military recruiting did surge in the aftermath of 9/11, but that was long ago now. The "targeted audience" of that WSJ piece wasn't even born back then.

The Heritage Foundation report is just one assessment. Some say such reports are generated solely to spur defense funding. Maybe. We're reminded of President Eisenhower's parting wisdom regarding the dangers of succumbing to the military-industrial complex.

Then again, given the current global stage, we'd take that over the alternatives.


Print Headline: Volunteers

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