The compulsory draft, run by a U.S. government agency called the Selective Service, requiring all young men to do military service, ended in 1973. That means that all American men who turned eighteen before 1973 were, unless exempted, compelled to serve in one of our military branches for a minimum of two years. To avoid the draft and to be assigned to the Army Language School (ALS), later known as the Defense Language Institute (DLI), I enlisted for a three-year tour in the army after I graduated from college (and was not longer protected from the draft by college deferral) in 1958.
That enlistment changed my life. The army taught me a language I had never heard of, Vietnamese. Back in those days, we didn’t call that part of the world Vietnam; we called it French Indochina. When I finished the year’s intensive training, I was assigned to an agency I had never heard of, the National Security Agency (NSA), at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. When my enlistment was completed in 1961, NSA hired me and sent to Vietnam for the first time in 1962. For the next thirteen years, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S., working under cover as an enlisted man in whatever unit I was supporting, exploiting the radio communications of the enemy. Then, in April 1975, I escaped under fire when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.
None of that would have happened had the draft not been in effect. Nor do those events reflect the most important ways the army changed me. Training in boot camp and infantry school taught me what I was capable of as a man. I became strong, lithe, and physically effective. I learned to think on my feet. Perhaps most important, I discovered the intense love that a fighting man has for his buddy, the guy fighting next to him. In short, the army changed me from a boy to a man.
Almost all the men I meet nowadays never served in the military. Veterans, especially those who served in combat, are becoming rare. I only know two men who saw combat. Combat veterans are now a tiny fraction of a percent of the U.S. population.
So I would favor restoration of the draft. The training I received in the army has proven invaluable. All young American men could profit from military service.