As he broke down the “AVF Arithmetic” for the audience, numbers did reveal themselves.
For example, an estimated 4 million people turn age 18 each year. Of those, the Pentagon estimates about 30 percent can qualify for military service, giving the armed forces 1.2 million men and women to bring on board.
Laich authored a book on the subject, “Skin in the Game: Poor Kids and Patriots,” and co-founded the forum to tackle the problem.
Some of the numbers they present bear that out. The Army, for instance, fell short of recruiting goals even after adjusting its initial mark last year. And this year took on even slower growth towards what officials had called for in recent years.
Nearly 2 percent, or close to 1,200 of those active Army recruits, were considered category IV recruits, scoring in the 10th to 31st percentile on test scores. Those recruits, a decade-old RAND study showed, wind up being 20 percent to 30 percent less effective in their jobs than category II and III soldiers, Laich said.
By scratching using the leverage of the draft on the larger numbers, Laich and Wilkerson said that the services would no longer need to court lower-quality recruits, grant as many, if any, waivers and bring a few National Merit scholars and All-American linebackers into the fold.
And to these men and their colleagues, it isn’t a matter of if the draft will return, but when.
Those missions and challenges will include a rise in humanitarian and disaster relief in the face of increased natural disasters linked to climate change and a national defense policy that seeks to meet peer competitors such as Russia and China. Meanwhile, badly needed investments in the economy, environment and education competing with defense dollars, the panel said.
“We’re going to need a lot more soldiers and Marines, and probably the all services, as well,” he said.
That’s in part to competing with peers but more is needed for the military’s long reach to address what some predict to be a massive refugee and resources crisis over the coming decades as climate changes forces rising levels of conflict and displacement.
Wilkerson points to recent Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey, all of which required major efforts from multiple states’ Guard units. The Texas Guard called up all 12,000 of its troops to respond to devastation in Houston.
There wouldn’t be enough troops to do both.
For those reasons, the panel members see a measured way of reinstating the draft as the best option for getting Americans reacquainted with such service that previous generations took as the norm.
“We need to start,” Wilkerson said. “We need to have at least a small bit of conscription."
A national no-deferral lottery system for men and women.
If selected, the person would have the option of three choices — serving two years on active duty following basic training and job training; serving in either the Guard or Reserve for six years after the same training but if deployed for one year or more, service obligation would be considered satisfied; if the selected person wants instead to attend college then they would participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps and serve a commission. If they fail to gain a commission then they revert to option one or two.
The larger effect, forum members hope, is to engage citizens in how the country uses its military.
“If we had a draft in 2003, would we have gone to Iraq at all?” Laich pondered.