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ARLINGTON, Va. — Assertions by a pro-draft congressman that the volunteer military is made up of America’s poorest, least-educated citizens are wrong, a senior defense official said Monday.

“We all want a force that roughly looks like America, and by and large that’s what we have,” the official told Pentagon reporters during a “background” press conference. “It’s a force that broadly represents the nation as a whole, although it’s not perfect.”

The press conference was called because Pentagon officials are concerned about a movement in Congress to reinstate the draft, which is being led by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

Rangel, who opposes war with Iraq, introduced legislation in the House last week to require either military or alternative national service for all U.S. citizens age 18 to 26.

In letters to congressional colleagues and Pentagon officials, Rangel has said he wants the draft reinstated because “the burden of military service is being borne disproportionately by members of disadvantaged groups.”

As a result, Rangel says, members of Congress and the Bush administration, who will take the nation to war, have no personal stake in the decision because their own children do not serve.

But the senior defense official took issue with Rangel’s assertions, citing statistics that he said show that the U.S. military is not made up primarily of the poor and minorities, but instead is composed of “a broad cross section of America.”

“There is no lack on the part of those with an elite background to serve,” the defense official said.

For example, many of the students at the nation’s military academies belong to rich and prominent families, the official said.

“Some would argue that the students at [the U.S. Naval Academy] Annapolis are the future elite,” the official said.

As for Rangel’s assertion that minorities are “disproportionately represented” among the enlisted forces, it is true that blacks make up 22 percent of the enlisted force, compared to 12 percent to 14 percent of the U.S. population, the official said.

But that is because blacks tend to make the military a career, the official said.

“This is a hard thing to prove, but we believe there is a widespread consensus [among blacks] that this is a merit-based institution” where advance is not based on skin color, the official said.

Meanwhile, military enlistees are not predominantly from “poor” families — they come from the same economic background as most Americans, the official said.

For example, the official said, 1999 DOD statistics show that the fathers of 90 percent of all enlisted recruits are employed, versus 89 percent of the recruit-age population of the United States.

Rangel’s spokesman, Emile Milne said in a Monday telephone interview that both he and Rangel had seen the Defense Department’s statistics, and were, in fact, using the same 1999 demographic reports to back the proposed bill.

“We’re not playing the numbers game in this thing,” Milne said. “The issue is shared sacrifice: If there is a true threat to the United States, then the entire population should share the burden.”

But without citing Rangel by name, the defense official said the pro-draft advocates were using selective statistics.

“Let me warn those who would manipulate the numbers,” the official said. “There are a lot of pitfalls.”

The official later said that Rangel and his supporters were citing figures that do not include military officers, who make up between one-seventh and one-eight of the force.

Without including the officer class, the statistics on race and socioeconomic class are skewed, because officers are required to have college degrees and usually come from families with more money and education, the official said.


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