I won't take it any more
Our all-volunteer Army
 - Our all-volunteer Army - - art  - photography - by Tony Karp


I was a draftee, inducted 1963, released in 1965. Just at the start of the Vietnam War, but before the lottery. My assignments were six months at Walter Reed followed by a year on the DMZ in Korea. (I was medical corpsman, trained in EMT and bedpan-emptying.)

I was fascinated when Nixon ended the draft and brought in the all-volunteer Army in 1973. (Only the Army had a draft, other services were already volunteer-only.) On the surface the all-volunteer certainly had a lot of things going for it.

1. The end to uncertainty for millions of draft-age men. This is the most important benefit of the all-volunteer Army. Until this point, millions of draft-age men planned their lives around the inevitability of the draft, and of ways to avoid it. Some got married to avoid it (Dick Cheney), some went to college to avoid it (Dick Cheney, again), some joined a National Guard unit that wouldn't see overseas duty (George W Bush), and still others left the country. (Some volunteered -- Al Gore and John Kerry.)

2. Lower turnover. One problem with the draft was that after they'd trained you for up to six months, they only got another year and a half of active duty from a draftee. Whatever skills were developed during the two years of service were lost when the draftee departed. With the all-volunteer Army, the soldiers see the Army as a career and the skills and experience aren't lost.

3. Greater ability to act as a unified force. When I was in the Army, the was a mixture of draftees and enlistees. (My serial # began with "US," the enlistees with "RA.") There was sort of a culture clash between those who wanted to be there and those who didn't. Now, in theory, everyone is there because they want to be.

4. In theory, lower turnover yields a lower cost (see #2)

5. Greater dedication by those who see Army as a career. Members of the all-volunteer Army are less likely to cause problems or to refuse orders.

But, as with any plan, there are mixed blessings. Here is a look at the downside of the all-volunteer Army.

1. Higher costs per individual soldier. With the draft, you have unlimited manpower at a very low cost. And you can draft whomever you want -- doctors, engineers, and other professionals. (In 1965, as a PFC, I got around $95 a month, including overseas pay and hazardous-duty pay.) You have to raise the pay scale quite high to get the same people to volunteer.

But it gets worse. I was a medic in the army, so I'm familiar with how they got doctors when there was a draft. Any man, graduating from medical school in reasonably good health, could look forward to a tour in the Army. The Army gave doctors a commission as an O3 (Captain) and incentive pay of an extra $100 a month. With an all-volunteer Army, the army has to pay for the doctor's medical school in return for a commitment to military service. In addition, the on-duty pay is an order of magnitude higher. The same sort of bargain has to be struck to get any professional to sign up for the army. In addition, the army has to offer large enlistment bonuses, and similar bonuses when it comes time to re-enlist.

2. Higher costs mean smaller forces. With a limited budget, the higher cost of the all-volunteer Army limits its size.

3. Difficulty in meeting recruiting goals. During wartime, in the absence of a draft, it's easy to see why this is so. The Army can offer more money in the form of a bonus, but there's a limit, which leads to lowering of standards to meet enlistment goals. This has come out recently. Start with raising the age limits for recruits, then lower the standards for testing, then lower the requirements for past brushes with the law.

4. Corporate culture cuts both ways. The all-volunteer Army is a career - you go along to get along. Where a draftee might complain or, in an extreme situation, refuse to follow an order that seemed improper, the volunteer is far less likely to risk their career.

In the best case, the soldiers might refuse to participate in a mission they consider suicidal. (This has already happened in Iraq.) In the worst case, they can participate in the sort of things that came to light at Abu Ghraib, where prisoners were tortured. (I wonder what would have happened if there had been a generous mix of draftees in with the enlistees at Abu Ghraib.)

5. Here's the biggest, dirtiest secret of all: The all-volunteer Army is a peacetime army. This the real problem, the one that no one talks about. The all-volunteer Army is a fine peacetime force, ready for participation in UN or NATO missions, ready as a first-response in case of an attack, but that's about it. You can't fight a war with an all--volunteer Army.

More about this last item in future posts.
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