Mark Shields [op-ed, Oct. 15] urges a system that would call on all classes of Americans for military service.

The system we need -- in order to bring together young people from all walks of life at a time when our society is fast dividing -- is one that goes beyond a military draft. We need a system that enlists all young people, male and female, for perhaps a year and a half of national service after high school graduation. A lottery could determine whether an individual went to the military (given military needs, the lottery could be weighted to send more men than women there) or to work in the national parks or inner-city programs or hospitals. To work, the system would have to allow exemptions only for poor health.

The military opposes a draft, saying it needs longer-term enlistments.

But we might face another prolonged war, in which case we would want a large pool of trained people.

We ended the draft after Vietnam. Today, Americans should support a system of universal service if it is equitable -- which the draft, with its educational exemptions, was not. The younger generation might not be enthusiastic; I did not join the Army's enlisted ranks happily.

But the Army provided my first chance to serve my country, to live with people from different backgrounds and races, and to see the world.

PETER BRIDGES

Arlington