Alan W. Dowd

Another Tour

Conventional wisdom says that the unstable, unpredictable situation in Iraq would trigger a decline in reenlistment numbers for the Army, but the conventional wisdom is wrong. Even in the midst the bloodiest, deadliest month of guerilla fighting in Iraq, the Army exceeded its mid-year goal for reenlistments: The Army re-signed 28,377 troops, bringing the target number of 56,100 by the end of the fiscal year well within reach. Only the 82nd Airborne fell short of its mid-year goal—and only by 85 troops. 

As Lt. Col. Franklin Childress explained to Kimberly Hefling of the Associated Press, “It’s a very positive retention picture at this point.” Positive and surprising. Some Army divisions have been deployed virtually non-stop in recent years: For example, key units of the 101st Airborne were deployed to Afghanistan for seven months that spanned the autumn and winter of 2001 and the spring of 2002. After a brief respite back home at FortCampbell, the division then spent 12 months in Iraq from March 2003 to March 2004. Yet the 101st eclipsed its mid-year recruiting goals. 

Some attribute the high reenlistment rates to America’s shaky job market, others to the high-dollar bonuses shelled out by the Pentagon, but an equally important factor is patriotism. The troops reenlisting in the war zones of south-central Iraq and eastern Afghanistan simply will not leave their buddies—or their country—in the middle of a fight. As one colonel on leave from Iraq told me, it’s something special to take or administer the reenlistment oath within earshot of enemy fire. 

Very Selective Service

Even as troops reenlist by the thousands, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the Selective Service System has begun laying the groundwork for what is being called a “special-skills draft.” Such a draft might include language specialists and individuals with computer and technology expertise. 

“Nobody foresees a need for a large conventional draft such as we had in Vietnam,” according to Selective Service spokesman Richard Flahavan, “If we have any kind of a draft, it will probably be a special-skills draft”—a highly targeted, highly selective search for key specialties. Although they insist such a draft is only in the planning stage—and that no request has been made by the Pentagon—the fact that Selective Service officials are openly talking about the possibility speaks volumes about the DoD’s looming needs and gaps. 

Men ages 18 to 25 are required by law to register with the draft agency. Some 13 million men are registered at any given time with the Selective Service. If activated, it would be the first draft since 1973. 

With Friends like These

The only person to be convicted of the September 11 attacks has been released on bail by a German court. Mounir al-Motassadek was serving a 15-year sentence for his role in planning the 9/11 attacks as part of a German-based al-Qaeda cell. But the German court, in effect preempting a retrial scheduled for summer, concluded that the earlier conviction would not hold up. 

Americans and Germans alike are all for due process and fair trials, but as State Department official Adam Ereli put it, “Given the seriousness of the charges, it would have been preferable to keep him under detention.”  

Motassadek’s al-Qaeda cell spawned three of the 9/11 hijackers. To beat the rap, his lawyers cleverly argued that the testimony of another terrorist—Ramzi Binalshibh, who is being held in the U.S.—exonerates Motassadek. Binalshibh claims that Motassedek knew nothing about the 9/11 attacks. But wouldn’t Binalshibh have motive to lie about his partner in mass-murder and thus spring him from prison? After all, he’s of no use to al Qaeda behind bars.  

Hypersonic History

NASA has successfully tested a so-called “hypersonic” plane. Dropped from the wing of a modified B-52 bomber, the unmanned X-43A tore across the skies above the Pacific Ocean at 5,000 mph. That’s more than double the top speed of the now-retired SR-71 reconnaissance plane, which set the previous mark for a jet at around 2,100 mph. As The Los Angeles Times detailed in its post-flight analysis, “hypersonic” speeds are defined as “exceeding five times the speed of sound.” 

NASA and the Pentagon have been exploring hypersonic speed for decades. In fact, the Reagan administration initially earmarked $2.3 billion for the hypersonic program before canceling it. However, as the Times noted, new technologies that allow air to be pushed through a jet engine at a super-fast rate of speed (thus preventing overheating) have brought hypersonic flight within reach at a fraction of the cost: NASA built a trio of X-43A missile-planes for less than $230 million.  

The first was lost during a test flight in 2001. The second made history in 2004.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.