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Draft registration -- for what kind of service?

President Carter's sudden decision to recommend the registration of 19- and 20-year-olds for a possible draft raises a number of serious considerations. Much of the debate on that proposal is understandably focusing on cost factors, on mobilization requirements, and on the adequacy of the all-volunteer force in meeting US military manpower needs. In a time of increasing world tensions, it is perfectly natural and prudent for this country to examine its national security policies, and I welcome a vigorous debate on these issues. But I also fear that this debate may be truncated and incomplete, ignoring some fundamental issues.

One aspect of the registration debate which has received far too little attention is the question of what kind of service our young people may be required to perform. I strongly question the fairness of asking the youth of this country to sign up for a draft system whose details remain unclear and confusing. Registration with uncertainty, it seems to me, is far more traumatic and intrusive to young people and their parents than would be a registration program which clearly delineated the service options available to our youth.

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A call for registration independent from any examination of future service options raises the specter of a return to the inequities of the old military draft. In fact, registration raises a number of other questions that must be responded to. We need to explore now whether mandatory service is the best option for our country, whether such service should be restricted to military requirements and whether men and women should share equally in any future service program, voluntary or mandatory.

Without delving into these questions, I think we shortchange the American people and create a credibility gap which will only alienate the very group we should strive to attract. The move toward registration of our young people demands an open debate on the service issue. Young people deserve not only the right to participate in shaping national service policies but also the right to know, before being required to register, just what kind of service they may be asked to perform.

The events of the 1970s produced a generation of young people who looked inward for satisfaction rather than outward toward a positive contribution to society. Whether that was right or wrong, the fact is our society has not yet made a sincere effort to encourage its young people to volunteer to serve the nation. We have not yet made an effort to provide sufficient opportunities for service, nor have we attempted to explain our society's need for personal contributions from its people.

I believe that the future of the volunteer army may depend on the revitalization of a service ethic. When the idea of service has so atrophied that the volunteer army attracts disproportionate numbers of poor and minority volunteers and the vast majority of our young people feel no obligation to serve , is it any wonder that the quality and quantity of volunteers have become such troublesome issues in the shaping of our national defense policies?

In principle, I believe we should address the question of national service primarily through an enhanced and strengthened voluntary approach. This would be most in keeping with a free society during peacetime.

To be successful, such a voluntary plan should include a vigorous outreach effort to raise the level of awareness among our young people as to what service opportunities exist, including active military and reserve opportunities, and why service is important for the country and for the individual. The program should encompass a broad range of service options, including an expanded Teacher Corps. VISTA-type jobs, the Public Health Service, the Peace Corps, youth athletic programs, service to the handicapped and the elderly, and conservation service patterned after the existing Young Adult Conservation Corps or the Youth Conservation Corps. There are, quite frankly, almost as many potential service opportunities as there are individuals willing to perform useful tasks.

I believe we need to take advantage of the debate on registration to explore the issue of national service. It is for this reason that I have introduced HR 6868 to establish a one-year commission to examine national service options. I envision a highly public commission -- comprised of military and civilian service representatives, members of Congress, and young people whose age group may be called upon to serve -- which will seek out the creative ideas of the American people in an effort to formulate national policies that can have broad public support. I am hopeful that the House Committees on Armed Services and Education and Labor will give my legislation prompt attention and that the Congress and the President will show strong leadership on this issue.

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Fundamental national service questions must be a part of the registration debate. This country cannot afford simply to return to the mistakes and injustices of the past. We must look to the future with new thoughts, new ideas , and new hopes for meeting the challenging problems of the 1980s.


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