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Contrasting views of the 'soldier shortage' While your series ("Soldier shortage," Aug. 5, 6, 9, 10) on retention problems in the military was very thorough, and pointed out steps the Pentagon can take to increase recruitment and foster re-enlistment, it took your editorial ("Why Serve," Aug. 10) to suggest why this so-called readiness crisis is not the problem everyone thinks it is.

The US military brass still views peacekeeping missions as contrary to their stated goal: winning two major regional wars simultaneously in opposite parts of the globe with no allied help. Sound far-fetched? It is. If the military just redefined their mission to what we have seen in recent past, fighting one major regional war with allied support, while supporting several peacekeeping missions, then the current retention problem disappears. We would actually have more troops than we needed. The two-war strategy is designed to provide a rationale for maintaining a cold-war military force structure; it should be abolished in favor of a one-war strategy with an emphasis on peacekeeping.

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The editorial also makes one other excellent point. Expensive weapons systems are bought at the expense of readiness. Canceling the unneeded F-22 fighter jet alone would save $50 billion over the next 15 years.

That money can virtually fund all current readiness shortfalls. Put other cold-war designed weapons on the chopping block, and the military budget could actually be cut. Coupled with an abandonment of the two-war strategy, we could have a well-equipped military geared to deal with 21st century conflicts with readiness problems nowhere in sight.

Luke Warren, Washington

Council for a Livable World Education Fund

I was aghast at your story on military recruitment. The constant emphasis, despite the clear statements in the story, was that the problem was a combination of the booming economy and the "net" generation.

While these problems were a factor, the single greatest factor is morale. Why do soldiers leave the military? Morale. Why do soldiers leave during their first enlistment? Morale.

I was a soldier during the Reagan and Bush era. During that era, we were not the world's policeman, we were the world's SWAT team. We had decent facilities, trained for combat better than 20 percent of our time, and spent much of the rest doing maintenance. And we were not constantly having our budgets cut.

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Now we are the world's nanny. Our soldiers are constantly in one place or another for no reason that any rational person can support. We do not come in with guns blazing; we come in tip-toeing and hoping not to offend. We are no longer the cavalry, we are the diaper service.

An infantryman joins to "place his body between his loved ones and war's desolation." They don't talk about it much, but that is the core. He does not join to place his body between two equally hostile groups in the Balkans.

The military has no leadership, supplies, or support.

John Ringo, Commerce, Ga.

Welfare cartoon rings true

Regarding the Aug. 5 editorial cartoon: It makes a good point. The man who is taught to fish may not eat well. If we teach enough men to fish, the river will be overfished.

As we have pushed people off welfare wages in low-paying jobs have been pushed down. That is supply and demand. It is ironic that the working poor resent welfare, but when it ends, it is their wages that will be cut.

Richard Bruce, Davis, Calf.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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