Paying for the colllege educations of soldiers or their children would do a lot more for today's Army than bringing back the draft, Gen. Edward C. Meyer, Army chief of staff, said yesterday.
Meyer, in an interview with The Washington Post, said the draft would drive young people into the other services, not the Army, and leave his biggest personnel problem uncorrected.
That problem is attracting and holding quality people, especially those trained in the complexities of modern warfare, like running the commuications and electronics controlling of today's weaponry.
Under Meyer's plan, anyone who joined the Army would get a more generous GI bill. If he or she stayed in for 15 years, the Army would pay for the education of the careerist's children at whatever colleges they could get into.
Although Meyer stressed that he was not taking a pro or con position on resuming conscription, his views on the impact of that step on the Army add a new dimension to the congressional debate on the issue.
"The country has to make that decision," said Meyer on the draft, saying that there would be advantages and disadvantages.
"What troubles me," said Meyer, in speaking as head of the Army, "is that a draft would help the Air Force, the Nary, the Marine Corps. Their recruiting problems will be gone." If tradition is borne out, he said, those branches will fill their personnel needs with high school graduates.
"We will be the ones, the Army who will get the draftees. And that will be a cross-section . . . The draft would not change the mental categories of the people you have in the Army today.
With an Army of draftees rather than volunteers, Meyer said, "what you have out in the field for those sergeants and these junior officers are people who don't want to be there.
"Unless the draft were highly discrimatory" by inducting only top-quality people, and unlikely prospect, "I don't believe we would make out any better, except that we would be full all the time. But we would be full of people who don't necessarily want to be there."
He said this situation would require the Army to scrap its present program of discharging without prejudice, those in basic training who cannot adjust to military life.
"We couldn't do that with the draft. Everybody who was drafted and didn't want to be there would be trying to get out."
Army recruiting is going much better this year than last, prompting Meyer to concentrate on attracting and holding on to quality volunteers rather than on filling the ranks.
In this effort, Meyer said he has concluded that reviving the GI bill, under which the government would pay a year of college or other education for every year the volunteer served in the military, would lure more high school graduates into the Army.
Besides using education to attract first-timers, Meyer said, the Army could keep more of its sergeants and young officers by taking over the financial burden of educating their children.
"Most people who serve in the military know they are not going to be millionaires," Meyer said. "But they have a few demands.
"One, they have to be able to eat. And they have to be able to put enough money away to provide for the education of their children. In my judgment, that's the biggest single problem they see facing them ahead: 'How am I going to educate my children?'"
Under his plan, Meyer said, the government would pay the entire cost of education for the children of any soldiers who stayed in the Army at least 15 years.
"I'm trying to solve the problem of middle-grade management," said Meyer, referring to the current exodus of sergeants and junior officers. The army is 12,000 short in non-commissioned officers and is losing young officers at an alarming rate.
The Army's personnel office is refining Meyer's plan into a detailed proposal, which will go to Defense Secretary Harold Brown and then, if approved, to President Carter.
Meyer conceded that the cost of the educational benefits, which would have to be extended by the other services in the Army's offered them, would be high.
"My response to that," he said, is that the Department of Health, Education and Welfare guarantees billions in bank loans and grants scholarships to students who often do not have to repay the government through service for the help.
"All I'm asking is that there be a repayment through service to country," Meyer said.