Volunteers for war: two American heroes show how the military reflects the nation's population, economy, and ethnic changes. (National).
Both were looking for something. Lynch, who enlisted just out of high school, wanted to see the world beyond her home of Palestine, West Virginia, and to use her Army benefits to pay for college. Her dream was to teach kindergarten. Piestewa (pronounced pee-ESS-tuh-wah) was a single mother with two small children, a boy, 4, and a girl, 3. A member of the Hopi tribe from Tuba City, Arizona, she hoped to learn new skills.
They became friends while stationed in a maintenance unit at Fort Bliss, Texas, and their friendship continued when the unit was sent to the Iraq war. They were together when their unit fell under Iraqi attack. Lynch, who had just turned 20, was taken prisoner. Badly injured, she was later rescued in a daring commando raid. Piestewa, 23, was found in a shallow grave; she was the first female U.S. soldier to die in Iraq, and the first Native American woman in the Army killed in combat.
A MICROCOSM OF THE MILITARY
Lynch, Piestewa, and the other members of their unit in some ways mirrored the mix of races, sexes, and backgrounds currently found in the all-volunteer U.S. military.
Their unit ranged from career soldiers like Master Sergeant Robert J. Dowdy, 38, and Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, to teens just out of high school. Among those killed in the attack were Private Ruben Estrella Soto, 18, of El Paso, Texas, who joined the Army hoping for financial aid to study computers or engineering: and Private Brandon Sloan, 19, a former high school football lineman from Bedford Heights, Ohio.
Lynch and Piestewa had another thing in common with the larger military they were part of: Many of its members come from families who if not poor, often have limited financial means. Both found jobs hard to come by in their hometowns; the Army offered a way out.
Some members of Congress, academics, and military analysts say that economic reality calls into question the concept of an all-volunteer force, which was put in place 30 years ago. Volunteerism replaced the earlier military practice of drafting civilians into uniform in times of national crisis.
These critics argue that today's military is voluntary in name only. They say relative economic disadvantage has replaced local draft boards in determining who enters the military, especially the enlisted ranks. In their view, it is un-American to have an affluent nation being defended by working-class young people, disproportionately minority.
"It's not fair that the people we ask to fight the war are people who join the military because of economic conditions," says Representative Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat, who advocates reinstating the draft.
LESS RICH, NUT LESS POOR TOO
When compared with other groups of the same age, the American military, particularly in its enlisted ranks, has fewer rich people. But it also has fewer poor ones. It has more Southerners and fewer Northeasterners. It has a higher percentage of black people, especially black women, compared with the larger population. It currently has a smaller proportion of Hispanics. (See chart, page 11.)
Defenders of the all-volunteer force, particularly in the Pentagon, assert that the military does reflect the country's population, especially when the number of officers--about one seventh of the military, virtually all of them college graduates--is considered. They also note that while the median income for households that produce white recruits is lower than for other white homes, the median income of the families of black recruits is higher than it is for blacks as a whole.
Moreover, supporters of the volunteer force say, the military is more professional, better motivated, and more stable when soldiers, sailors, pilots, and others stay in longer. They point to its performance in the Persian Gulf war, the Afghanistan campaign, and now Iraq. And they shudder at returning to the troubled draftee military of the Vietnam era.
"I served in a draft force," a senior Defense Department official says, remembering the Vietnam era when unwilling drafted soldiers sometimes resisted orders and in some cases killed their officers. "Not a pretty picture."
Comparisons with Vietnam gloss over the experience of World War II, when an American military force, heavy with draftees, defeated the German military machine, considered at the time the world's best.
DIVERGING FROM THE MAINSTREAM?
Put side by side, the comparisons suggest that when it comes to efficiency and motivation, the issue may not be volunteers versus draftees, but a popular war versus an unpopular one.
But questions about the volunteer force remain: Are those who enlist in the military driven by economic need to do so? Is the volunteer force destined to diverge in background in ever-more-radical ways from the American population as a whole?
Demographic trends don't provide easy answers. With American incomes having stagnated except for those people with college degrees, the percentage of youths choosing to continue their education after high school has exploded, with 63 percent of men and 64 percent of women going to college in 1999. That puts military recruiters under enormous pressure to fill quotas from a shrinking pool of high school graduates. (A high school degree or GED is required for military service.)
BETTER OFFERS AS A LURE
The Defense Department has responded by trying to lure recruits with expanded offers to help members of the military pay for college after active duty or even while in the service. But demographics may also come to the rescue of the military. Though a shrinking proportion of teenagers has been seeking to enlist, the number of American teenagers is expected to grow in the coming decade, giving recruiters a bigger pool from which to draw.
For the moment, such considerations are less important for many Americans than the relief and joy of finding out that family members like Lynch survived the Iraq campaign--or the mourning for those who did not.
Flora Sombrero, a social-studies teacher at Tuba City Junior High School, was Piestewa's T-ball coach when Lori was in elementary school. "She was very lively and open, always smiling," says Sombrero. "I remember her as a young individual who had a zest for life. I could always just see her smiling.
* Would you join the military?
* If you answered yes, what factors do you believe influenced your answer? If you answered no, what factors do you believe influenced your answer?
* Do you believe the war against Iraq was a popular or unpopular war?
To help students understand the debate over whether the volunteer military is really volunteer, specifically whether the military is the only career option for economically disadvantaged young people.
The article reports that both Jessica Lynch and Ruben Estrella Soto joined the military to take advantage of financial aid to further their studies after they had completed their military tours. (Students should also know that Lori Piestewa came from an economically disadvantaged background.)
Ask students if they have seen military ads that promise money for college after military duty is finished. What is their reaction to such ads? Does the fact that the military feels the need to promise funding for college suggest that it is in need of personnel? Have such ads caused any students to think about a stint in the military as a way to pay for college or other posthigh-school studies?
DRAFT DEBATE: Critics of the current volunteer military want to return to a draft, which would require that all eligible young people serve two years in some branch of the U.S. military. Break the class into two groups, with one assigned to argue for a draft and the other side required to argue against a draft and for retention of the current volunteer military.
If students stumble for arguments, you can prompt them with a few questions. Would the draft ensure that the burden of military service does not fall disproportionately on teens who can't afford college? Is the current system better because volunteers are more motivated than conscripts?
POPULAR WARS: The article notes that the motivation--or lack of same--of young people in the military may be the result not of the volunteer or draft military but of the popularity of the war. Ask students to draw up a brief list of factors that they believe would contribute to a war being popular or unpopular. (A few of the factors might include the government's stated goal in going to war and the cost of the war in dollars and casualties.)
The Demographic of Defense Comparing soldiers with general population. RACIAL AND ETHNIC BREAKDOWN WHITE BLACK HISPANIC OTHER Enlisted military personnel 63% 22% 9% 6% Civilian population, age 18-44 70% 12% 13% 5% HIGHEST EDUCATION LEVEL ATTAINED Enlisted military Civilian population, personnel age 18-44 Some College Experience 27% 56% High school degree, GED, 72% 32% or equivalent No high school 1% 12%
STEVEN A. HOLMES is a correspondent for The New York Times.
RELATED ARTICLE: "Death, only death".
The number of Iraqis killed in the war may never be known
The last thing the 20-year-old Iraqi soldier remembers before waking up a prisoner of war, alone and wounded in a coalition hospital in northern Iraq, was being ordered to lie on the ground as U.S. jets shrieked overhead. He says he thought of one thing: "Death, only death." He was lucky, and lived.
The young man recalls that Iraqi officials, threatening to kill him or his family if he refused, forced him from his home in southern Iraq two weeks before and sent him to the northern front. Doctors say he was recovering from a piece of shrapnel that struck his heed, perhaps from a U.S. bomb.
The soldier, who would not give his name, puts a face on an otherwise faceless army: the 350,000 troops estimated to have been part of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi forces ranged from many regular soldiers, some of whom were apparently forced to fight under pain of death, to guerrilla forces strongly backing Saddam Hussein. While thousands of troops surrendered, many without fighting, other soldiers battled fiercely, often against superior allied firepower.
Because the U.S. military no longer counts enemy dead, the number of Iraqis killed--including civilians--may never be known. The difficulty could he seen in Basra, the southern city that resisted British troops with determination.
Ambulance drivers and hospital workers estimated handling up to 2,000 corpses in three weeks of war. Some were clearly military: They wore uniforms and military boots. Others were obviously civilians: women, children, and older people. Some were burned or blasted beyond recognition by bombs, artillery, or grenades.
The same puzzle exists across the country, especially around Baghdad. One division of 10,000 Iraqi soldiers appears to have simply vanished under U.S. bombing and ground attacks.
"The destruction there was terrifying," says one U.S. official. "Whole divisions were destroyed. Many went home, but many were killed."
With reporting by John M. Broder of The New York Times.
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|Title Annotation:||Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa|
|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||May 9, 2003|
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