'Special skills draft' on drawing board / Computer experts, foreign language specialists lead list of military's needs

P. Kerim Friedman kerim.list at oxus.net
Tue Mar 16 21:11:36 UTC 2004


Special skills draft' on drawing board
Computer experts, foreign language specialists lead list of military's

Eric Rosenberg,

Hearst Newspapers
Saturday, March 13, 2004 ©2004
San Francisco Chronicle

URL: sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/03/13/MNG905K1BC1.DTL

Washington -- The government is taking the first steps toward a
targeted military draft of Americans with special skills in computers
and foreign languages.

The Selective Service System has begun the process of creating the
procedures and policies to conduct such a targeted draft in case
military officials ask Congress to authorize it and the lawmakers agree
to such a request.

Richard Flahavan, a spokesman for the Selective Service System, said
planning for a possible draft of linguists and computer experts had
begun last fall after Pentagon personnel officials said the military
needed more people with skills in those areas.

"Talking to the manpower folks at the Department of Defense and others,
what came up was that nobody foresees a need for a large conventional
draft such as we had in Vietnam," Flahavan said. "But they thought that
if we have any kind of a draft, it will probably be a special skills

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he would not ask Congress to
authorize a draft, and officials at the Selective Service System, the
independent federal agency that would organize any conscription, stress
that the possibility of a so-called "special skills draft" is likely
far off.

A targeted registration and draft is "is strictly in the planning
stage," said Flahavan, adding that "the whole thing is driven by what
appears to be the more pressing and relevant need today" -- the deficit
in language and computer experts.

"We want to gear up and make sure we are capable of providing (those
types of draftees) since that's the more likely need," the spokesman
said, adding that it could take about two years to "to have all the
kinks worked out. "

The agency already has in place a special system to register and draft
health care personnel ages 20 to 44 in more than 60 specialties if
necessary in a crisis. According to Flahavan, the agency will expand
this system to be able to rapidly register and draft computer
specialists and linguists, should the need ever arise. But he stressed
that the agency had received no request from the Pentagon to do so.

The issue of a renewed draft has gained attention because of concerns
that U.S. military forces are over-extended. Since the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist strikes, U.S. forces have fought two wars, established a
major military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and are now taking on
peacekeeping duties in Haiti. But Congress, which would have to
authorize a draft, has so far shown no interest in renewing the draft.

Legislation to reinstitute the draft, introduced by Rep. Charles
Rangel, D-N.Y., has minimal support with only 13 House lawmakers
signing on as co- sponsors. A corresponding bill in the Senate
introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., has no co-sponsors.

The military draft ended in 1973 as the American commitment in Vietnam
waned, beginning the era of the all-volunteer force. Mandatory
registration for the draft was suspended in 1975 but resumed in 1980 by
President Jimmy Carter after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. About
13.5 million men, ages 18 to 25, are registered with the Selective

But the military has had particular difficulty attracting and retaining
language experts, especially people knowledgeable about Arabic and
various Afghan dialects.

To address this need, the Army has a new pilot program underway to
recruit Arabic speakers into the service's Ready Reserves. The service
has signed up about 150 people into the training program.

A Pentagon official familiar with personnel issues stressed that the
armed forces were against any form of conscription but acknowledged the
groundwork already underway at the Selective Service System.

"We understand that Selective Service has been reviewing existing
organizational mission statements to confirm their relevance for the
future," the official said. "Some form of 'special skills'
registration, not draft, has been a part of its review."

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