Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Military Draft Begins

They're too smart, too media-savvy, to go after nineteen-year-old college boys. But never mistake this for anything but a draft:
David M. Miyasato enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1987, served three years of active duty during the first Gulf War and received an honorable discharge in 1991. He remained on inactive status for five more years, until 1996. Since then, the Kaua'i resident has married, started an auto window tinting business and this year, he and his wife had their first child.

But in September, Miyasato received a letter from the Army recalling him to active duty and directing him to report to a military facility in South Carolina on Tuesday.
Or this:
Pistorius was honorably discharged from the Army in July 20, 2001. His certificate of release attests to his accomplishments: Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Sharpshooter qualification. The upper corner is the spot in which the military lists a departing member's reserve obligation, the amount of time discharged soldiers, sailors and Marines remain subject to recall. For Pistorius, the boxes contain a succession of zeroes.

Because he was discharged well after his prior reserve obligation had passed, the Army laid no further claim to him, until someone in St. Louis ignored those zeroes and went hunting for a fresh body to fill a manpower shortage that grows more painful with every Iraqi sunset.

"They basically told me that my Marine Corps time doesn't count as military service," Pistorius said. Faced with a threat of AWOL charges, and worried that a spotless military record was about to be stained, Pistorius headed last month to Camp McGrady in South Carolina.
This New York Times article has more context, although it confuses matters by mixing together the stories of former soldiers who (understandably) never thought their Individual Ready Reserves obligations would be called in, and those who have legitimately discharged all military obligations. The NY Times article also makes it clear that veterans with the wherewithal to sue are generally able to extricate themselves from the draft - leaving the less informed and those with fewer resources bound for Iraq.

I've long argued that a military draft is unlikely because the military themselves don't want it. The modern U.S. armed forces are not looking for untrained cannon fodder. But this backdoor draft removes the military objection to the draft; while Pistorius and Miyasato may be rusty and out-of-shape, they have the skills, training, and experience needed to be soldiers. And calling them up for active duty doesn't sound like a draft to the average reporter or citizen on the street. They're soldiers being called back to active duty. Surely that's different from Joe College getting a letter from his draft board, right?


Pistorius and Miyasato are civilians. They owe the military no further service. The military has precisely as much right to call them up for active duty as it has the right to call up pregnant, disabled, thoroughly civilian me. These stories are not about a "recall to active duty," they are about a draft.

A Colonel Hart, in the NY Times story, responds to the successful lawsuits by declaring them proof that "the system works." But Pistorius' story makes it clear that even those veterans who eventually manage to avoid the draft have suffered harm from the attempt to deprive them of their liberty:
Suddenly, on Nov. 5, Pistorius was ordered to pack up. He was driven to the airport and told he was going home. At the last minute, he was handed a letter declaring: "You are released from active duty, by reason of physical disability." He had already packed up the pre-deployment assessment that said precisely the opposite. The letter also says he's subject to reserve obligation until Feb. 26, 2006.

The Pistorius family, with its three children, ages 6, 5 and 2, is now trying to figure out what to do without a month's wages. "I just put everything off," Wendy Pistorius said. "I paid only the bills I absolutely had to."

The Army took back the family separation allowance he was given when called to Camp McGrady. Frederick Pistorius is working a swing shift at the local tube plant and trying to figure out if the Army still considers him a reservist and if he's going to get another letter from St. Louis.

"I don't want to get arrested in front of my kids," he said.