During a recent press briefing at the Pentagon, a reporter asked my views on the old military draft system. Although not eloquently stated, I responded to the question in part as follows:
"If you think back to when we had the draft, people were brought in, they were paid some fraction of what they could make in the civilian manpower market, because they were without choices. Big categories [of people] were exempted-people that were in college, people that were teaching, people that were married . . . And what was left [those who were not exempted] were sucked into the intake, trained for a period of months and then went out, adding no value, no advantage really, to the United States Armed Services over any sustained period of time, because (of) the churning that took place - it took an enormous amount of effort in terms of training and then they were gone."
Again, my statement was not eloquent. A few columnists and others, though, have suggested that those words were intended to mean that draftees added no value to the military. That is not true. I did not say they added no value while they were serving. They added great value. I was commenting on the loss of that value when they left the service. I certainly had no intention of saying what has been reported, or of leaving that impression. Hundreds of thousands of military draftees served over years with great distinction and valor - many being wounded and still others killed.
The last thing I would want to do would be to disparage the service of those draftees. I always have had the highest respect for their service, and I offer my full apology to any veteran who misinterpreted my remarks when I said them, or who may have read any of the articles or columns that have attempted to take my words and suggest they were disparaging.
The intent of my comments was to reflect a view I have held for some time: that we should lengthen tours of duty and careers for our all-volunteer forces, so that these highly trained men and women in uniform can serve in specific assignments longer, and also not be forced to leave the service when they are at the peak of their skills and knowledge.
It is painful for anyone, and certainly a public servant whose words are carried far and wide, to have a comment so unfortunately misinterpreted.
It is particularly troubling for me that there are truly outstanding men and women in uniform or their families -- past and present -- who may believe that the Secretary of Defense would say or mean what some have written. I did not. I would not.
I hope this deeply felt statement reaches those who have served those who are serving, and their families.