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Blacks not at great risk in military, Aspin says

By ROBERT SHEPARD

WASHINGTON -- While blacks constitute a large share of the U.S. military, their risk during time of war is not greatly out of line with their percentage of the general population, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin said Friday.

Black Americans of recruitment age comprise about 14 percent of the population as a whole, and during the Gulf War black combat deaths were about 15 percent of the total, Aspin said.

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Aspin, D-Wis., in a speech prepared for the Association of the U.S. Army, rebutted suggestions that the all volunteer military force attracts a disproportionate number of blacks and that a return to the draft would produce greater equity in the risk faced by various U.S. population groups.

He also disputed allegations that the all volunteer military is dependent on lower economic classes, citing a Congressional Budget Office review that found the military 'is generally reflective of the nation as a whole economically.'

'Today, we have a race-neutral voluntary system that produces a superb military while offering individuals advancement on the basis of merit. If that makes the military more attractive to minority members than job prospects in the society at large, then it is the society at large that is broken. Let's fix that,' Aspin said.

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'Resuming a draft in order to achieve a military that better meets an abstract notion of representativeness would be a grave mistake.'

More people from the top 10 percent economically would get brought in by the draft, as well as more Hispanics and Asian Americans than now are in the military, Aspin said.

However, 'we'd also get a force less educated and less competent, including the 30 percent of America's youth who are not accepted under current standards,' he said.

'A draft, then, would make the services somewhat more representative ... but the improvement would not be great and it would come at an enormous price,' he said.

'It was the notion, made urgent by Desert Storm, that black Americans would have to bear a grossly disproportionate share of the fighting and dying in future wars,' Aspin said. 'It's not true.'

Commenting on the results of a report by his committee, Aspin said, 'We came up with some surprising answers when we examined these issues closely. Black Americans are well represented in the AVF but will not suffer greatly disporportionate risk in time of war.'

Recruitment age blacks, about 14 percent of the general population, comprise 26 percent of new Army recruits and about 18 percent of new Marine Corps recruits, Aspin said. Overall, blacks comprise 31 percent of enlisted Army personnel and 21 percent of enlisted Marines.

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But the black percentage of Army and Marine combat units is less than their percentage of the overall military, the committee report found.

The report, based on personnel totals just prior to the Gulf War, estimated combat risks under various potential war scenarios. It calculated that in a ground war of the type fought against Iraq blacks would comprise 18 percent to 19 percent of the combat force.

In conflicts involving chiefly air power, or air power and Navy ships, blacks were under represented, partly because fewer blacks are Air Force or Navy pilots, the report said.

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