Reinstating the draft - the last draftee says it’s possible

Florida National Guard
Posted at 3:59 PM, Sep 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-12 12:03:14-04

PHOENIX (3TV) - Will we ever be forced to bring back the draft?

President Donald Trump caused quite a stir responding to missile tests last month threatening North Korea with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen.” 

With thousands of U.S. forces stationed overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and beyond, many military families are watching the ramped-up rhetoric from North Korea very closely.

It’s something all families should be talking about because more military leaders say if we go to war, it's highly likely we would have to reinstate the draft to respond. 

We sat down with a man who has some unique perspective on the matter, retired Army Command Sgt. Major Jeff Mellinger, the last enlisted draftee in continuous active duty. 

He was only 19 when he got the letter that changed his life, and can still rattle off what it said verbatim:

“Greetings, from the president of the United States. Your friends and neighbors have selected you to represent them in the armed forces of the United States. You are hereby ordered to report for induction no later than 0700 hours 18 April, 1972," Mellinger said.

“The return address was the White House, Washington, D.C., that was before zip codes,” he remembers.

And so he left his job laying drywall to join the Army jump school.

Instead of doing his time and getting out as fast as he could, he re-enlisted and joined the elite Army Rangers.

He served nearly 40 years, rising through the ranks to retire six years ago as command sergeant major in charge of allied forces in Iraq.

“39 years, eight months and 13 days,” he said, admitting his wife was the one keeping tabs. 

“I loved it and I miss it every day. My knees and my back may not, but I do,” he said. 

Mellinger survived 27 roadside bombs in 34 months in Iraq. 

So will he truly be the last draftee?

“If something seriously happened on the Korean peninsula, it would be horrific,” he said.

“End of the day, you can only fly so many airplanes and launch missiles, then what are you gonna do? Somebody's still got to put their boots on the ground, and that’s where it gets ugly,” he said. 

“That’s when we start talking about, ‘Can the all-volunteer force do it and stay in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria, and the 32 other countries around the world we're doing humanitarian missions or whatever, and that then becomes a real challenge for the House and Senate to figure out,” Mellinger said. 

He says he would support reinstating the draft if our military needs it.

And that's not all.

“You get people saying, ‘Oh, I’m all for the draft.’ Oh, really?  So you’re ready to have our daughter get the first call to report to the draft station? I think you have to say yes. Women serve now and I think if you have a draft, to do anything other than draft men and women, you are speaking with a forked tongue,” he said.

Arizona Senator John Mccain fought to amend last year's National Defense Act to require women to enlist in selective service. It passed in Senate but failed to get full congressional support. 

Mellinger served with the first female four-star general and says times have changed.

“With the exception of the people that are serving now, America doesn't have any skin in any of the games we are playing,” he said. 

With a skyrocketing budget for benefits, re-enlistment bonuses and less than one percent of Americans serving in our all-volunteer military, Mellinger says a draft might eliminate a lot of public apathy.

Though he says the disconnect is likely more out of oblivion than intention.

“We didn't get involved in things we probably should have and we did get involved with things we probably shouldn't have,” Mellinger said. 

He says while current events often seem as if the worst to come is unfolding before us, history, is the best perspective.

“The draft isn't a new thing! We had a draft army largely in WWI, largely in WWII, largely in Korea and in great measure in Vietnam,” Mellinger said. 

“There were riots in this country over the draft in the Korean war! You could buy your way out in the civil war, actually pay to have one of your employees take your place,” he said. 

Mellinger says the way we fight wars today would get around a lot of the old exemptions.

“Even people with physical problems can sit behind a keyboard these days, so maybe those deferments would change. Back then it was assumed you were gonna put on a rucksack and carry a rifle and go march somewhere, maybe not anymore,” Mellinger said.

Congress would still have to pass and the president, approve the selective service lottery in order to reinstate the draft.

Considering the course his life took, how that draft letter he didn't ask for or want, molded him into the leader he became, Mellinger says it's all about embracing your unseen potential.

“This country is full of residents and some citizens. The difference is citizens give back, residents just take,” he said. 

Whatever unfolds, he hopes it will spark a conversation for people to be more involved, intentional, and appreciative.

“Whatever it is, everybody ought to do something, mowing lawns at a state park, sorting books at the library, anything you can do, because it gives you a perspective for the things you have and the things you benefit from,” he said. 

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