Originally Published: February 13, 2013 9:59 p.m.
While I seldom agree politically with New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, he does deserve our thanks and praise for his military service. Rangel was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds, the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in the face of death, and three battle stars while he was serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. That being said, his sacrifice in Korea in no way gave him carte blanche to act in the unethical way that caused him to be censured by the House of Representatives in November of 2010 after the House Ethics Committee found Rangel guilty of 11 of 13 ethics violations. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Rangel one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress in 2008 and 2009. Hopefully, after the censure, Rangel will serve with more honor than in the past.
Rangel has done one thing that deserves closer attention and serious consideration in Congress. Several times since 2003, Congressman Rangel has introduced legislation to reinstate the draft. In 2003, and several times since, he has called for a draft into military service for two years for every man and woman from 18 to 25 or 26 years old. Those unable to serve for some reason would be required to do community service. The concept of reinstating the draft is a good one, despite its unpopularity in Congress.
The idea of serving one's country is not new, but with all-volunteer forces, many consider it someone else's obligation. It should be everyone's job. The concept of the "citizen soldier" was started when this country was still a colony and continued off and on until after the Vietnam War. There are numerous and various reasons to reinstate the draft. Rangel logically thinks that it would spread the obligation of protecting our country over a wider economic and racial spectrum. He has a point. Science director M. David Rudd at the National Center for Veteran Studies states that during World War II, 9 percent of Americans served in the armed forces. That dropped to 2 percent in Korea and Vietnam. It was less than 1 percent in the Gulf War and since 9/11, less than one-half of 1 percent serve. Rangel also believes that a draft would cause more serious and directed debate by leaders before deciding to go to war if their sons and daughters were at risk of being drafted.
The requirement to serve would also have a positive impact on those called into service. Some of those who currently go from high school to university lack the maturity and self-discipline to succeed in college. They party for a year or so on their parents' money or loans provided by the taxpayers and then flunk or drop out. One rarely hears of a military veteran doing that. It is nearly impossible to learn self-discipline if one has never experienced a structured, controlled environment. The military provides this. It also provides a first-hand education in seeing good and poor leadership, as well as experience in working with others.
My own exposure to those with some military experience has convinced me that it has a very positive effect on the individual. In the 1990s, I was a sergeant in the Gang Enforcement Section of the Long Beach Police Department. There were about 30 officers assigned to the section. Some had military experience and some didn't. The ones with some military in their backgrounds were more mature, easier to supervise and better at problem-solving. Not that the others did a poor job. They were good officers, they just lacked the life experience that the military provides.
Here is an anecdotal example. We were having a rash of purse snatches on the west side of the city. Because the suspects were using bicycles, they were out of the area so fast that none of the victims or witnesses were able to identify the suspects. We knew who they were, but we didn't have enough corroborating evidence to make an arrest. I assigned one of my officers, nicknamed Pineapple, to these strong-arm robberies and he told me he would handle it. He was in the Navy Reserves. Pineapple and his partner started writing traffic tickets to all of the suspected gang members who were riding bikes, for violating a city ordinance that required anyone under 21 to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. After a month, the tickets started going to warrant because the gang-bangers didn't go to court for the tickets. We arrested them for the warrants. The result was that the gang members stopped riding bikes because no self-respecting gang-banger would be caught dead wearing a bicycle helmet. Later, when they snatched purses on foot, they were caught and prosecuted.
This happened often. The veterans that worked for me, provided solutions that were practical, simple and that worked. Reinstating the draft would be good for our country and good for those drafted. It would also enlighten the next generation to the fact that freedom is not free.
Buz Williams is a retired Long Beach, Calif., police officer who has lived in Prescott since 2004.