Monday, February 09, 2009

I know that face ....

Newsweek has a nice bit on a character most everyone thinks is extinct ... the American draftee.
America's generals love to brag about their all-volunteer Army. That's because they tend to overlook Jeffrey Mellinger. He donned his Army uniform for the first time on April 18, 1972, about the time the Nixon Administration was seeking "peace with honor" in Vietnam and The Godfather was opening on the silver screen. Nearly 37 years later, he's still wearing Army green. Mellinger is, by all accounts, the last active-duty draftee serving in the U.S. Army.

"I'm a relic," Mellinger concedes with a self-deprecating laugh. But the last of the nearly 2 million men ordered to serve in the Vietnam-era military before conscription ended in 1973 still impresses 19-year-old soldiers. "Most of them are surprised I'm still breathing, because in their minds I'm older than dirt," the fit 55-year-old says. "But they're even more surprised when they find out this dinosaur can still move around pretty darn quick."
His perspective reminds us with a nice reminder the the good old days often weren't.
Mellinger was working as a 19-year-old drywall hanger in Eugene, Oregon, when he came home to find a draft notice waiting for him. "I went down to the draft board and asked them if this was really serious," he recalls, "or if it was like an invitation." But it was an order, the first of many Mellinger would obey. He started his military career as a clerk in what was then called West Germany, and was looking forward hanging up his uniform after two years of service. "I was dead-set on getting out," he says. "We had a lot of racial problems, drug problems, leadership problems." But his company commander talked him into re-enlisting. The lure: the chance to join the Rangers, the elite warrior corps that Mellinger came to love (his 3,700 parachute jumps add up to more than 33 hours in freefall). Re-enlisting "was the best decision of my career," Mellinger says.
It would be nice to get him to Congress to speak to some who don't quite get it.
He doesn't have much patience for those, like Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who want to bring back the draft to ensure that war's burdens are equally shared. "We're doing just fine, thank you, with the all-volunteer force," Mellinger says. "Until the time comes that we're in danger of losing our capabilities to do our missions, then we ought to stick with what we have — there is no need for the draft."
Hollywood too.
Like many veterans of the Vietnam-era Army, he bridles at suggestions that the draftee force was riddled with misfits and druggies. "We didn't run off to Canada," he says, taking a swipe at those who avoided the draft by heading north. "While it makes great rhetoric to stand up and say 'We don't want a draft Army because the draft Army was bad,' the facts don't support it," Mellinger says. "Just because they didn't run down and sign up doesn't make them less deserving of respect for their contributions." There's a sensitivity evident in being viewed as less of a soldier for having been drafted. "I'm proud to be a soldier, and I'm proud to be a draftee," he says. "I took the same oath that every other enlistee who came in the Army — there wasn't a different one for draftees."
Mrs. Salamander would understand this quote.
Mellinger has told his wife, Kim, that this is his final Army posting, meaning he's likely to retire sometime next year. The couple has no children, although Mellinger has three grown kids from a prior marriage. The last draftee then plans to move to Alaska, where he spent much of his career, and spend his days reading history and running with his two Dobermans. "When I tell my wife it's my last assignment, she just rolls her eyes," he concedes. "This is my sixth 'last assignment'."

Hat tip StableHand at Jawa.

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