W. Thomas Smith, Jr

Myths abound when it comes to military personnel in the modern American armed forces. Most are in some way related to recruiting new soldiers, and who’s fighting and who’s dying.

Five of the biggest myths include:

1) The U.S. Defense Department is unable to recruit enough military personnel to defend the country and its interests abroad.

2) Critical combat arms units are not being filled.

3) The military will accept any warm body and any dull brain it can get its hands on.

4) American minorities (and those from lower income urban areas) are suffering disproportionately higher losses on the battlefield.

5) Female soldiers are fighting in offensive ground combat operations.

All are myths perpetuated by those opposed to our efforts in Iraq, who are opposed to the current administration and the U.S. Department of Defense, who are pulling the race card (for whatever reason), or who would simply prefer to use the military for social engineering purposes rather than for what it is designed to do.

Now, let me qualify what I am about to say.

Anyone – white, black, male, female – wearing the uniform of the United States armed forces, whether they are serving in a support capacity or as a member of a combat arms unit, is first and foremost a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. They are serving honorably, in a noble cause. They deserve the unwavering respect, gratitude, and support of the American people. And they are all at risk in a war with few discernible front lines.

But let’s look at the myths that are being perpetuated by extremely vocal outsiders who often go unchallenged.


First, there is the myth that recruiting is down, or as many opponents of the war in Iraq like to say, “Bush can’t find enough high school grads to send to Iraq.”

Fact is, recruiting is up. If we look at four of the past five years, the Army – which usually struggles more than the other services in terms of recruiting – has met and exceeded its goals for active-duty recruits.

But that fact is often ignored because it runs counter to the myth that young Americans, who might have considered military service as a viable career option, are avoiding service like the proverbial plague.

During a conversation last fall with J.E. McNeil, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Conscience & War (an organization that “defends the rights of conscientious objectors”), she warned me not to feed into what she referred to as the Army’s trumpetry. “I haven’t looked at the numbers this time around, but I do know that [earlier in 2005] when the Army did not make its goal, they lowered goal numbers in order to make goal,” McNeil said.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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