I remember the draft and how it degraded the US military. In 1967, during my junior year in college, I joined the Navy. The Vietnam War was in full swing and most of my classmates were desperately casting about to find a way to avoid the draft. In those days everyone was assigned an annual draft number by lottery, based upon one’s birth date. My number was very high for people my age who were registered in Boston. I was not worried about the draft. I was worried about not being allowed to serve. At the time I was a student pilot working to get my private pilot’s license. I loved flying and desperately wanted to ‘fly with the fleet.’ I had to apply three times before the Navy would accept me as my uncorrected vision was beyond the maximum of 20/50 that the Navy would accept for duty as a naval flight officer. A month after I graduated from college with a BA in Anthropology I reported to the legendary Aviation Officer Candidate School aboard NAS Pensacola, FL. Eighteen months later, as a young LTJG, I reported to my first squadron, a VP (patrol) squadron which had just transitioned to the P-3B “Orion” aircraft. (Several months later, the students at my alma matter, not embracing the military as eagerly as I, burned the campus ROTC building to the ground while attacking firemen and police.)
The Navy used to have a slogan that said, “Navy. It’s not just a job; it’s an adventure.” We in the fleet immediately modified it to say, “Navy. It’s not just a job, its three jobs” to jokingly recognize the nearly impossible demands placed upon Navy people. The day I reported to my squadron I was assigned four jobs. My secondary duty was as the NFO aboard Crew 1. My primary job was as Line Division Officer. In the Navy, flying is always technically a secondary duty. A Navy squadron’s line division is responsible for all unmanned aircraft activities on the ramp and within the hangar spaces. This includes aircraft towing, fueling, washing, repositioning, and anything else needed that was not done by a flight crew. Unfortunately for the Navy, “McNamara’s Project 100,000” was underway.
As the Vietnam War grew and more and more men were being drafted, many with low draft numbers tried to join the Air Force, Coast Guard, or Navy as a way of avoiding being an Army infantryman. This coincided with an ever greater demand by all the services for manpower. Project 100,000 (which eventually became Project 400,000) was one of those Looks Great on Paper ideas from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who had made his chops as an alleged analytical genius in the automobile industry and was part of the John Kennedy Whiz Kid Brigade that had stormed Washington, DC, in the 1960s. The military tests every potential recruit physically and mentally to ensure meeting standards that will qualify for military duty. Project 100,000 basically eliminated the intelligence standards so as to provide a larger pool of military recruits. This probably seemed inspired to Mr. McNamara, whose idea of military service must have been based upon having looked out of his office onto an auto assembly line and determined that the repetitive activities of auto line workers required less than high intelligence (a characteristic of whiz kids – especially those with no military experience -- is that they almost always misjudge the capabilities of those they judge to be lesser humans).
So, into the Navy (and other services) came a group of people without the intelligence to do the highly technical and complex duties required of military service, let alone an aviation squadron (soldiers and Marines quickly and cynically named these people "The Moron Corps"). As you might guess, such sailors, unable or unwilling to pass advancement exams or get their division officer’s recommendation for promotion, settled to the bottom of the unit’s manpower pool like coffee grounds in a pot. So what do you do with such people? You use them to lug around the big, heavy stuff, like a P-3. Such was the makeup of my line division when I reported aboard. I had one chief aviation boatswain’s mate who was very good at getting things done and at handling the line shack, but he was just one man. As an NFO I was always flying missions (we deployed to Vietnam twice) meaning that I was on the ground and actually had the opportunity to get to the line shack perhaps once every ten days. The line crew itself was 90% Project 100,000. These sailors soon earned a Navy-wide nickname, The Pink Pagers, coined to describe the fact that each of their personnel records started with a bright pink sheet to warn the commanding officer that this sailor was part of Project 100,000 and to take any special defensive actions he thought appropriate. And they needed special treatment. Project 100,000 was an inflamed abscess of problems for the military. At least once a week I found myself standing before the CO at the captain’s mast for one of my men. The infraction of military law was always stupid and disruptive. Deciding to get a drink in town by taking a line tractor and driving it through the base perimeter fence. Missing muster. Drunk on duty. Drunk in town. Fighting. Missing movement (drunk and missing a flight into or out of our forward base in Vietnam). Damaging an aircraft by towing it into a hangar bulkhead or tearing-off an antenna on some obstruction. Damaging equipment. Losing equipment. Out of uniform. Wearing torn or dirty uniforms (includes a uniform shirt worn during a knife fight). Disrespect to a senior. Assaulting a senior. Assaulting a junior. Hospitalization for alcoholism. The list was endless. Many of these crimes merited a court martial, but most COs preferred to offer captain’s mast – the Navy’s non-judicial punishment, which allows punishment by the CO short of a court martial. When one of my men deserted that was too much for the CO and he then became the Navy’s problem at a court martial.
The damage from this sort of disruption is hard to understand by someone without military experience. Any military unit depends upon cohesion, a sense of unit identity, and being able to rely upon the man next to you to do their job and watch your back. We were flying recon missions over unfriendly people who were trying to kill us and it was critical that everyone in the squadron was doing their job and watching out for one another. When there is someone in a unit who does not want to be there or cannot do their job or both, the effect is not just one man missing, but several men missing, because not only is this screw-up not doing his job, he is requiring that someone else do not only their own job but do the job of the screw-up as well. Worse, a screw-up means someone not watching your back. Project 100,000 was a true disaster at a time when the Navy needed unquestioned competence. (We’ll leave Admiral Zumwalt and his “Z-Grams” for another time.)
After leaving active duty I affiliated with the Reserves and flew with them until I finally retired. The change for the better in the quality of Navy personnel after the draft ended cannot be overstated. The Pink Pagers disappeared, as did those who were simply lazy or unreliable. I was privileged to serve with men – and women – in the Reserves who were simply the best. Over one-third of the officers obtained advanced degrees and many sailors were college graduates and business owners in addition to being amazingly skilled in their specialties. Disciplinary actions were almost unheard of. Year after year we Reservists would compete with active duty crews on sub time – actually tracking a submarine -- and every year we Reservists, flying our older airplanes, would beat the pants off the active duty crews. I flew with another NFO who had become a lawyer but hid it from the Navy and his squadron mates until retirement because he had feared that he would be made a legal officer when he really wanted to fly and command a squadron.
Mr. Rangel’s disingenuous assertion that the military draft be reinstated for “fairness” is hypocritical and an attempt to hurt the country’s ability to wage war. One wonders what his military experience was like. Since Vietnam, the Democrats have continuously mismanaged the military, an institution they just don’t like and which they mistrust. Ask John Kerry. Almost every op in Vietnam was micromanaged by SECDEF McNamara and President Johnson 10,000 miles away in Washington using grainy black and white photos and a telephone. We, on the front lines, were hamstrung in our flight ops by this crazy mismanagement. Because the Democrats do not like nor trust the military, they have used the armed forces as a sort of laboratory for the dumbest and most destructive social experiments, experiments for which the American public would not for one moment stand. The Democrats’ unbending -- even deranged -- insistence upon affirmative action and their ownership of labor unions can easily be seen as a watered-down civilian version of Project 100,000 that they have nonetheless been able to impose upon the country only through a radicalized judiciary. As Senator-elect James Webb noted 20 years ago, when it was discovered that Project 100,000 was a disaster, the military, not the politicians, was blamed for the failure. A return of the draft at this time is unneeded, unwanted, and certain to hurt the armed forces. If a draft becomes necessary at some future time because of increased terrorism against America, it is critical that the military’s standards not be lowered by a new version of Project 100,000.
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