Trump allies are open to the idea of mandatory military service for teens

Trump allies are open to the idea of mandatory military service for teens

FILE - Students in the new Army prep course stand at attention after physical training exercises at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., Aug. 27, 2022. The Army fell about 15,000 soldiers — or 25% — short of its recruitment goal this year, officials confirmed Friday, Sept. 30, despite a frantic effort to make up the widely expected gap in a year when all the military services struggled in a tight jobs market to find young people willing and fit to enlist. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford, File)

By Sophie Boudreau

June 17, 2024

Young Americans haven’t faced the possibility of a draft since 1973. If some in former president Donald Trump’s circle have a say, mandatory service could be back on the table.

Could mandatory military service soon be the norm for US teenagers? The answer is maybe—if some allies in former president Donald Trump’s orbit have their way.

The US military hasn’t enforced a draft system since 1973, when the final round of Selective Service “lottery” picks were drawn during the Vietnam War. But in recent years, low recruitment numbers in some military branches have left leaders looking for solutions—and some conservative leaders have suggested that a return to mandated service could pave the way.

Former Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who served for just under a year during Trump’s first term, has publicly advocated for the possibility of required national service for young Americans. His ideals were further outlined in a section of Project 2025, a policy “blueprint” laid out by the far-right Heritage Foundation to guide a potential second Trump term.

In his lengthy contribution to Project 2025, Miller called for leaders to “improve military recruiters’ access to secondary schools and require completion of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)—the military entrance examination—by all students in schools that receive federal funding.”

Presently, the ASVAB is not required to be administered by law. Instead, individual school districts can decide whether to require the test. According to the official ASVAB website, the assessment is “a multiple-aptitude battery that measures developed abilities and helps predict future academic and occupational success in the military.”

According to reporting by The Washington Post, Miller has been even more direct about what he sees as the benefits of mandated service, even stating that the idea would be “strongly considered” in an interview and calling military service a “rite of passage.”

“It reinforces the bonds of civility,” Miller continued. “Why wouldn’t we give that a try?”

While Trump denies support, other allies espouse service mandate

Miller isn’t the only person in Trump’s orbit who appears enthusiastic about the idea of mandated service for young people. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he would “take no option off the table” when addressing military recruitment, according to the Post’s report. And Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who’s speculated to be on Trump’s short list of potential running mates, said he “likes the idea of national service.” 

Trump himself has denied reports that he would consider a mandatory service requirement, calling the idea “completely untrue” in a post on his Truth Social platform.

It’s worth noting that Trump has historically aligned himself with policy ideas promoted by the Heritage Foundation—in fact, the foundation itself publicly boasted that the former president followed about two-thirds of their “Mandate for Leadership” recommendations during his first year in office.

Trump has also publicly commended Miller’s service as defense secretary and indicated that he would be in the running to resume his role in the case of a second Trump presidency.

Dropping military enrollment sparks concern

Miller and other proponents of modified recruitment policies point to dropping military enrollment as justification for mandatory service and ASVAB testing. Young people could experience a sense of “shared sacrifice” in the military, Miller said. 

According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than 1% of all American adults are presently enrolled as active-duty military members. And collective recruiting efforts have fallen short across multiple branches in recent years, with only the Space Force and Marine Corps reaching their annual enrollment goals. 

Earlier this year, Department of Defense (DOD) officials publicly addressed the recruitment shortage, making no mention of mandatory service or plans to require the ASVAB in all federally funded high schools. Instead, they touted positive retention rates and emphasized a need to familiarize young people with the potential benefits of military enrollment—like expanded post-service career options, health care benefits, and valuable “real-life experience.”

Marketing efforts—not mandates—are at the heart of the DOD’s plans to increase recruitment, said Ashish S. Vazirani, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. 

This comprehensive suite of messages will be amplified by a robust marketing effort to shift the public narrative around public service,” he explained. 

  • Sophie Boudreau

    Sophie Boudreau is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience covering lifestyle, culture, and political topics. She previously served as senior editor at eHow and produced Michigan and Detroit content for Only In Your State.

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