Soldiers Mind: I am a Relic

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by a Soldiers Mind

From 1948 to 1973, young men were required to register for the draft when they reached the age of 18 years of age, during both peacetime and times of conflict. The idea was that these men would be drafted into the military, to fill the positions that couldn’t be filled through voluntary enlistment.

In 1973, the draft ended and the registration requirement was suspended in April 1975. Men who were drafted into the military during that time period saw combat in several combat situations that our country was involved in. In 1980, the registration requirement was reinstated by President Carter and it continues today. However, since the draft ended in 1973, no men have been called to duty through the system.

Mellinger in Army jump school in 1972, left, and on patrol in Baghdad in 2005. Courtesy Jeffrey Mellinger

The military has been steadily working towards an ‘all-volunteer’ military. They neglect to remember that there is still one Soldier serving on active duty, who was drafted. That Soldier, CSM Jeffrey Mellinger still serves today, as the CSM in charge of the US Army’s Materiel Command.

He was recently interviewed by Time Magazine. Mellinger was drafted in 1972 and first donned his uniform on April 18, 1972. It’s now almost 37 years later and Mellinger still proudly serves his country in the Army.

“I’m a relic,” Mellinger concedes.” He recounts how he still impresses the young volunteers that are currently enlisting in the Army. “Most of them are surprised I’m still breathing because in their minds, I’m older than dirt. But they’re even more surprised when they find out this dinosaur can still move around pretty darn quick.”

Mellinger recalls the day that he came home to find a draft notice in the mail. At the time he was 19 years old and working as a drywall hanger in Oregon. He remembers going to the draft office and asking if the draft notice was really serious. He quickly found out that indeed it was serious and soon reported for active duty.

Initially, his military career started as a clerk in Germany. His plan was to serve for two years and then get out, but his company commander talked him into reenlisting. According to Mellinger, the thing that convinced him was the opportunity to join the Rangers.

“Reenlisting was the best decision of my career,” Mellinger said.

His career in the Army has allowed him to travel all over the world, visiting many countries. One of his last tours was in Iraq, where he spent the last three months of the tour working directly for General David Petraeus, who kept the General informed of battlefield morale.

“We lost count of how many times his personal convoy was hit,” Petraeus said. “Yet he never stopped driving the roads, walking patrols, and going on missions with our troopers.”

Mellinger spent a total of 33 months in Iraq, going out in the trenches so that he was able to give a true and accurate account of morale to General Petraeus. He encountered some 27 roadside bombs, including two that destroyed his vehicle. Luckily he was able to escape injury both times
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Mellinger is a military brat, his father having served as a Marine. He recalls how he attempted to enlist in the Army and the Marines prior to being drafted, but was turned down by both branches of service. He still finds it strange that the Army he was drafted into doesn’t exist any longer.

“You get people who want to do this work,” he says of today’s nearly all volunteer force. “Until the time comes that we’re in danger of losing our capabilities to do our missions, then we ought to stick with what we have — there is no need for the draft.”

One thing sure to anger Mellinger is when someone mentions that they feel the Vietnam era Army was filled with misfits and druggies. He counters that argument by referring to the many who avoided the draft by heading to Canada.

“We didn’t run off to Canada,” he says. “While it makes great rhetoric to stand up and say ‘We don’t want a draft Army because the draft Army was bad,’ the facts don’t support it,” Mellinger said. “Just because they didn’t run down and sign up doesn’t make them less deserving of respect for their contributions. I’m proud to be a Soldier and I’m proud to be a draftee,” he said. “I took the same oath that every other enlistee who came in the Army – there wasn’t a different one for draftees.”

Thinking over the years of service he has given the Army, he proudly thinks about Soldiers that he let, who’ve gone on to take on key leadership roles in the Army. At this time, Mellinger has plans to retire from the Army next year, making his last duty station the Army Mareriel command in Virginia. Of course, he’s quick to mention that he’s told his wife 6 other times that he was going to retire, yet something has always compelled him to reenlist.

CSM Jeffrey Mellinger is a fine example of a leader, a warrior, and a Hero. He’s someone that our young Soldiers can look to for guidance and someone they can strive to emulate. Good luck CSM Jeffrey Mellinger in everything you do and thank you for your stellar service to our country.

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