Bush Should Ask You to Enlist


LOS ANGELES AMERICA is facing a military manpower meltdown. Overwhelmed by the demands in Iraq and

Afghanistan, the Army has all but used up its emergency recruiting measures: higher enlistment bonuses; more expensive marketing campaigns; even home loans for some recruits. Although the Army recruited its quota for June, it will probably miss its target for the year. Retention is going fairly well, thanks in part to re-enlistment incentives that are tax-free when a soldier re-ups in a combat zone.

The Army has also cycled through hundreds of thousands of reservists and deployed emergency personnel policies like "stop loss" to man its units.

Yet the supply of troops is still dwindling, to such an extent that the Army has now told field commanders to retain soldiers they had been intending to discharge for alcohol and drug abuse. It's time to call in the heavy artillery: the president of the United States.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has made many speeches in support of the global war on terrorism, including his address last week exhorting Americans to stay the course in Iraq. Unfortunately, he has never made a recruiting speech, and his only call to arms came in a fleeting reference at the end of his recent speech. Young Americans (and their parents) need to be told that they have a duty to shoulder the burden of military service when our nation is at war, and that doing so is essential for the preservation of freedom and democracy at home and abroad.

President Abraham Lincoln was able to man the Union Army without conscription for the first two years of the Civil War in large part because of his calls to service. Winston Churchill girded Britain for great sacrifice during World War II with his famous pledge to fight in the streets and on the beaches. Such leaders understood the power of the bully pulpit, and the need for the people to connect their personal sacrifice to a larger national goal.

President Bush's second inaugural address, with its vision of America's mission to spread freedom, offers a good platform for a recruiting pitch. And he could broaden his message beyond just military service by calling for young Americans to serve in all areas where their country needs them, from front lines of homeland security to those of inner-city education.

Still, the military is where the need is most acute. Recruiting duty may be the toughest job in the Army today; many recruiting sergeants would probably rather be with a combat unit in Iraq than hitting the high schools in Illinois.

A presidential recruiting speech may not fill every barracks, nor will it induce every old soldier to sign on for another tour, but it would help remind potential soldiers of what we're fighting for.

Phillip Carter is a lawyer and Army reserve officer who was recently called up to active duty for Operation Iraqi Freedom.