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Camp near Highland keeps residents on tenterhooks Marshall County REMC attends legislative conference in Washington

TEXARKANA, Texas – Kyra Rousseau remembers feeling trapped in her high school’s media center last fall as a phalanx of military personnel and faculty members closed the doors behind her and about 100 classmates before collecting all the phones.

Rousseau, 18, was a senior here at Liberty-Eylau High School. The soldiers were recruiting officers. She remembered asking to leave, but being told to sit down – her graduation depended on passing a military aptitude test.

“They tricked us,” Rousseau said. “They said ‘ASVAB,’ but they didn’t say what the ASVAB is.”

It stands for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a standardized test developed decades ago by the Department of Defense to help the military steer recruits into careers that match their skills and intellect. And if Donald Trump’s last Secretary of Defense had his way, all public high school students would be required to take the test.

Christopher Miller, who led the Pentagon during the chaotic end of Trump’s tenure in Washington, laid out his vision for the ASVAB and a number of other changes as part of Project 2025, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s government-wide game plan for when the likely Republican nominee returns to the White House. Miller is among a group of influential former administration officials and Republican lawmakers who have been mulling a draft and other measures to address what they see as a “crisis” in the volunteer military.

Trump has indicated that if Miller were to win a second term, he might again become defense secretary, a powerful Cabinet post with influence over Pentagon policy. And while the former president has not publicly endorsed Heritage’s policy document, he embraced many of the organization’s suggestions early in his first term.

In an interview, Miller said military service should be “seriously considered,” describing the concept as a shared “rite of passage” that would instill a sense of “shared sacrifice” among American youth.

“It strengthens the bonds of civilization,” Miller said. “… Why shouldn’t we try it?”

He said his plan was to: The ASVAB is designed to identify potential military “weaknesses” and fill knowledge gaps as U.S. defense policymakers assess competitors such as China and develop plans for potential conflict with a range of foreign adversaries.

“If we want to prepare for a great power competition,” Miller said, “it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the pool of potential military personnel and their specific skills in advance.”

In his contribution to Project 2025, he also advocates giving military recruits better access to secondary schools and suggests increasing the use of electronic medical records platform, which he says leads to “unnecessary delays” and “unjustified denials” for some people with disabilities or other conditions who would otherwise be happy to help.

Trump’s own relationship with the military is complicated. As a teenager, he attended a military academy but later requested a deferment to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. As president, he relished the role of commander in chief but regularly clashed with the Pentagon, whose leadership opposed many of his impulses and recoiled when allegations surfaced that he had denigrated those killed in combat.

Trump’s campaign declined to comment on whether the former president supports the draft and sought to quash speculation about his agenda. In a statement, senior advisers warned that no guess about future personnel or policies “should be considered official” unless announced by the former president or “an authorized member” of his reelection team.

Overall, the armed forces fell about 41,000 soldiers short of the Pentagon’s recruitment goal last year, officials told lawmakers in December. Only the Marine Corps and Space Force met their targets.

To explain these deficits, the Army, the largest of the armed forces, points to internal data showing that the majority of young Americans – 71 percent – are unfit for military service for reasons such as obesity, drug use and lack of fitness.

Only 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the armed forces, Army data shows.

The United States abolished the draft in 1973, two years before the end of the Vietnam War. Since then, the idea of ​​conscription has been politically unpopular. But some Republicans seem willing to push for change.

Senator JD Vance (Republican of Ohio), a possible Trump running mate, said in an interview that he clearly sees a need for measures to increase participation. “I like the idea of ​​military service. And I’m not talking about wartime,” he said, calling on more Americans to “show some initiative.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former Trump confidant whose relationship with the former president has been strained recently, said military recruiters need more latitude to work in the nation’s public schools and said “I will not rule out any option” when it comes to addressing the deficits – including conscription.

Rob Hood, a former Defense Department official under Trump and White House official under George W. Bush, said 18- to 20-year-olds would benefit from “gaining a better appreciation for how great this country is.”

“Who gave them their Social Security numbers? The U.S. government,” Hood said. “There can be takers and there can be givers, and if we’re all just takers and there are no givers left, this country will collapse.”

The Pentagon declined to comment.

To address the military’s recruitment shortage, the Department of Defense announced earlier this year that it would introduce marketing efforts encouraging young adults to find purpose through military service and emphasizing the tangible benefits it brings, including health insurance and retirement benefits.

Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called the Pentagon’s stance “treading water.” Military leaders, she said, are “throwing everything at the wall in the hope that good ideas will stick.” While it is obvious that more needs to be done, she said: “I still don’t think that’s a sufficient argument for Congress to impose conscription on America’s youth.”

What could change lawmakers’ calculations? Pressure from the White House, Eaglen said.

But in polarized Washington, consensus is often a matter of luck. In 2023, for example, Congress decided to give military recruiters greater access to high school and college campuses. A “Draft Our Daughters” provision that would require all 18-year-old women to register for the draft has been the subject of debate for years.

The idea of ​​conscription, said Senator John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), “seems un-American to me.” He called such Republican proposals “odd,” but added, “But there are a lot of things they’re doing that seem odd to me.”

Requiring the ASVAB in public high schools could provide a middle ground. Although neither state nor federal law requires students to take the test, some schools already have their students take it.

The U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request about a decade ago, said more than 900 schools across the country had mandated the test. Defense Department officials declined a request for current figures.

Liberty-Eylau in Texarkana was among the schools on that list that does not require the ASVAB. In a brief interview, the school’s assistant principal, LaTasha Harris, confirmed that all of the school’s graduating classes will be required to take the test. “Everyone can take it on one day,” she said. Harris did not respond to further questions, nor did other school administrators.

When Rousseau returned home from school after the ASVAB test, she told her mother, Laura Rousseau, that the school had forced her to take a military test. “I don’t want to fight in a war,” She said.

Laura Rousseau said she wants her daughter to decide her future and the military not to interfere. “I feel like they’re trying to make it easier to just draft the kids,” she added.

More than 1,000 miles away, in southwestern Pennsylvania, a 15-year-old student at Connellsville Area Senior High School wore an oversized military jacket with sleeves that reached past his hands and pants with legs so long they dragged on the ground.

All sophomore students must take the military aptitude test, said Joseph P. Walsh, a retired Army officer and instructor in the school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). He said he uses the results to advise students on which military careers they should consider.

Walsh described the program as an opportunity for those who may not be able to afford it further education or qualify for well-paying employment after high school. He said the JROTC awarded three Connellsville students more than $1 million in scholarships last year, which he used as a selling point to attract others.

“A lot of children come to me out of the blue,” says Walsh, “so job security is important.”

At least one teacher at Connellsville High School criticized the military presence. David Hartz, who has taught at the school for nearly 30 years, said requiring military testing feels like “Big Brother” and deceives students by making them believe they have fewer choices about their future. Hartz said he is not against the military, but he believes students should have a choice about whether to take the test.

A 2017 study by Rand found that low-income areas are disproportionately targeted by military recruiters. Another Rand report in April suggested that cases of recruiter misconduct have shaped the perception of some parents and school administrators, who fear they “may endanger students or take advantage of those too young to understand the commitment that comes with the draft.”

A military draft, Miller said, would give young people across the country a chance to get to know and rely on one another. He and other right-wing figures believe the United States is losing its social cohesion and see this as a solution.

“We don’t have a mechanism in our society right now,” Miller said, “that brings everyone together and provides a common focus and a common vision.”

Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.

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