The All-Volunteer Armed Force
by Jack R. Butler - 1971
On the one hand are those who oppose conscription in any form as a violation of man's basic rights in a free society. On the other hand are those who support the continuation of inductions under any circumstance, as a vehicle for bringing to young men a sense of national participation and obligation. Too often the positions and counterpositions have been based upon weak assumptions, inadequate data, or simple emotion, rather than upon rational discussion and detached investigation. It is not the intent of this paper to pronounce what the truth is. The author seeks only to structure the issue, leaving truth to be found at that point in the future when it can be determined by empirical test.
I bring you tidings of good cheer. All men will be liable for compulsory military service. It will make better men of them. -- King Hassan II, 1966
Compulsory military service is an emotional issue touching upon the personal values of all Americans. This personal impact often impedes realistic thinking about selective service, and the tendency exists to formulate the issue in polar either-or terms. On the one hand are those who oppose conscription in any form as a violation of man's basic rights in a free society. On the other hand are those who support the continuation of inductions under any circumstance, as a vehicle for bringing to young men a sense of national participation and obligation.
Too often the positions and counterpositions have been based upon weak assumptions, inadequate data, or simple emotion, rather than upon rational discussion and detached investigation. It is not the intent of this paper to pronounce what the truth is. I seek only to structure the issue, leaving truth to be found at that point in the future when it can be determined by empirical test.
A historical perspective often reveals a clearer picture of the present. Looking back for a moment, we see what is often overlooked: that for over 160 years, except for periods of major wars, there was no compulsory military service in the United States. Traditionally, the defense strategy of this country has been based instead upon a small professional force reinforced by a large trained manpower reserve.
Although the Militia Act of 1792 established a policy of universal military obligation, the American people have always associated that obligation with total national emergency. Consequently, it has been viewed as a wartime obligation. Only since 1948 has the draft become a permanent part of our manpower procurement policy, beginning in the 50s and 60s to take on the sense of a long-standing American tradition.
Cold War developments after World War II and perceived threats on the international scene changed our historical approach to manpower procurement. Our inability to support even a modest force level by voluntary enlistments led in 1948 to Congressional authorization of a peacetime draft for only the second time in American history.1 We felt that a small military establishment had become a luxury incompatible with our preeminent position as a world power. To fill the power vacuum in Europe and Asia, military forces were maintained at higher levels. As a result, military leaders and military institutions acquired political and industrial influence far exceeding that previously possessed by military professionals.
Korea, Berlin, Cuba, and Vietnam (in its early stages) were all considered an affirmation of our need to maintain a large military force. Until the mid-sixties Americans accepted this affirmation, and conscription became an accepted way of life. In large part, interest in Selective Service was dampened by a growing pool of manpower and the low monthly draft calls which resulted in an ever-decreasing percentage of those required to serve.
The Vietnam buildup, however, brought larger draft calls and increased vulnerability to involuntary military service. It brought also a surge of antiwar and antimilitary sentiment.
Though the protest movement against conscription found its roots in the Vietnam war, much of the debate centered on the workings of the Selective Service System. By attacking the System, many "found an acceptable and popular issue for agitating about Vietnam."2 Soon the controversy spread from the college campuses to the society at large, developing into an incredibly complex national debate which involved many issues that challenged the fundamental philosophy underlying this country's domestic and international policies. Thus we entered the seventies with an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the government, the values of the armed forces, and increased pressure for abolition of the draft.3
The Basic Issue The basic question is whether the United States is willing to maintain an adequate defense force vis-à-vis the responsibilities of a world power. If we accept the premise that the United States needs a military force, then the question becomes how best to raise and maintain that force in a democratic society. Three major alternatives have been advanced: reform and continue the Selective Service System; move to a completely voluntary military establishment; or develop some form of national service. Whatever manpower procurement program evolves, it must not only supply military requirements in terms of quantity and quality but also be viable under peacetime and wartime conditions. One of the vital lessons we have learned from past wars is that volunteers will not produce the manpower needed for large-scale or protracted conflict.4 This means that some form of selective service system must operate, whether it is actively engaged in the induction of men or simply serves to register, examine, and classify men on a standby basis.
In the event of a transition to a completely volunteer armed force, the draft would be necessary until manpower strengths were met through enlistments; thereafter a standby draft authority would be necessary to insure that national security requirements were satisfied. Similarly, in the event of adoption of a compulsory national service concept, Selective Service would have a role. Therefore, the Selective Service is central to any procurement policy.
The principal complaint against the current draft law is inequity because the system of deferments distributes the burden of military service unevenly. As President Kingman Brewster has put it, the longer a student hides away in the "endless catacombs of formal education," the less likely it is that he will be drafted.5 In the past occupational, paternity, and student deferments were often parlayed into complete exemption from military service. A degree of this inequity was removed by President Nixon when he issued an Executive Order in April 1970, which discontinued occupational and paternity deferments except for those holding such deferments as of the date of the order.6 The President also wanted to end student deferments (except for those engaged in officer-producing programs such as ROTC or those "vital" to the national interest). Such a move, however, requires Congressional action, and the President's request was not considered by the Ninety-first Congress. As of this writing, the Ninety-second Congress has the issue under consideration, and by the time this article is published a decision will have been made.
A review of the educational levels of enlisted personnel on active duty in 1969-70 demonstrates that the draft burden has become increasingly disproportionate. Of the 97.3 percent who had completed at least some high school, only 13.4 percent of these had completed two or more years of college and only 4.9 percent had graduated from college.7
Not only are inductions inequitable, but also the risk of battle is disproportionately distributed. Since less than 5 percent of all initial enlistments in the Army are for the combat arms, the balance of the requirement must be met with draftees. During 1969, draftees were killed in Vietnam at nearly double the rate of nondraftees.8
The Selective Service System has been the subject of comprehensive Congressional hearings which began in early 1971. Since ". . . the nation must now, and in the foreseeable future, have a system which includes the draft,"9 it is only logical to assume that Congress wants to insure a fairer system. Meanwhile, the President has directed the Department of Defense to take actions designed to reduce reliance on the draft and has established the all-volunteer force as a national objective.10
When the shift from a draft-supported to an all-volunteer force could or should be accomplished is a difficult question, but the Department of Defense has set July 1, 1973, .as the present goal for achieving zero draft. Consequently, the Administration asked the Ninety-second Congress for at least a two-year extension of induction authority with provision for standby authority thereafter.
No one can predict whether the all-volunteer force will become a workable reality. The concept has great political and social appeal, since a professional force composed solely of volunteers would blunt antimilitary attacks by the expedient of avoiding conscription. Pay and other benefits would substitute for compulsion as a means of obtaining the quantity and quality of personnel required. This seemingly desirable solution, however, is replete with pitfalls which must also be considered.
Quantity Quantity, it goes without saying, is central to feasibility. Without enough individuals to fill the ranks, an all-volunteer armed force is impossible. The last time the United States tried a completely volunteer force was 1947. The draft law which had been in effect since 1940 was allowed to expire. To compensate for the loss of draftees, recruiting programs were reorganized and intensified and Army recruiter strength increased. Enlistment options included choice of geographic locations and specific organizations. The Army also experimented with one-year and eighteen-month periods of service. In spite of these efforts, by January 1948, the armed forces had dropped 15 percent below authorized levels: with an authorized strength of 669,000, the Army had only 550,000 men in uniform.11 The National Guard, authorized at 650,000 men, had only 300,000,12 while the Army Reserve became largely a paper organization which had not trained for two years. In March 1948, President Truman asked Congress to revive the draft.
The new Selective Service Act was signed into law in June 1948. In spite of a subsequent one-third cut in Army recruiting strength and the actual drafting of only 35,000 in November and December 1948, and January 1949, Army strength rose by 125,000 by the end of June 1949.13
While the 1947-48 attempt at sustaining a volunteer force had left the services with too few men, it should be recognized that this experience demonstrates only the difficulty—and not the impossibility—of achieving a viable all-volunteer force today. That effort almost a quarter century ago was limited, the manpower pool considerably smaller, and, most important, no real attempt was made to attract volunteers through adequate pay and other benefits. How many men could be expected to volunteer at $75 a month?14
Current efforts to achieve an all-volunteer force assume significant cutbacks in the desired force level. Vietnam withdrawals and economy actions should return total active duty strength (from a peak of 3.5 million reached in 1968) to the pre-Vietnam level of 2.5 million, or less in the foreseeable future.
To maintain an armed force of 2.5 million, approximately 500,000 new accessions are required each year. Historically, we could expect 350,000 of these to be supplied by first-term enlistments and 150,000 by induction.15 In the absence of the draft, however, we would lose not only the 150,000 inductees but also those many thousands of first-term regular enlistees motivated to enlist because of the draft.
Estimates of the percentage of draft-induced enlistments vary. Table I compares the results of two surveys conducted by the Department of Defense in 1964 and 1968.16 It should be noted that draft motivation rose from 38 percent in 1964 to 54 percent in 1968. Indications are that today it probably exceeds 60 percent. In the context of a completely volunteer force, this has serious implications. Can true enlistments and re-enlistments be raised sufficiently to offset the loss of these men?
In estimating the number of required recruits for military service, I have concentrated on only the Army's manpower deficits. This procedure assumes that if the Army's manpower demands can be met the other services will be able to staff their forces with volunteers. Although the other branches have at times resorted to the draft, the Army has perennially been the prime recipient of inductees. Today only the Army uses draftees, and solving the procurement problems of an all-volunteer force necessitates first solving the Army's manpower problems.
TABLE I Percent of First-Term Regular Enlistees who were Draft Motivated— By Selected Characteristics
There is a major limitation inherent in this approach. Although the analysis is safe-sided toward the Army's requirements relative to other services, there is an implicit assumption that all branches in the Army have equal drawing power for volunteers. As mentioned earlier, fewer than 5 percent of all Army enlistments are for the combat arms (Infantry, Armor and Artillery), and only 1.7 percent of all enlistees choose the Infantry.17 Due to occupational hazards and discomfort, combat arms requirements are harder to fill than noncombat arms skills. Therefore, an overall Army manpower supply factor which assumes perfect substitution among branches of the Army tends to underestimate actual requirements.
Assuming a post-Vietnam Army strength of 950,000, about 200,000 new accessions are required annually. In fiscal year 1969, the United States Army Recruiting Command obtained 200,775 first-term enlistments of which, according to the 1968 Department of Defense survey, 58 percent were draft motivated.18 If these data hold true in a future all-volunteer environment, the Army can be expected to experience an annual enlisted shortfall of 115,676. To prevent this shortfall, dramatic action directed at personnel procurement and retention would be necessary.
Examination of personnel requirements reveals that officer strength in the lower three grades will initially decline. However, because ROTC production, like the United States Military Academy, is a fairly fixed program with a two-to four-year lead time, officer procurement in the near future is not considered critical. Supporting this conclusion are the reduced officer requirements in a declining force structure and the option to expand other officer producing programs such as Officer Candidate Schools.
The outlook for procurement of medical specialists and technicians is less optimistic. The continuing shortage of personnel in every health occupation will generate more competition for their services. Without the draft it would be difficult, if not impossible, to attract sufficient medical personnel. Not only would the accessions obtained by the "doctor draft" be lost, but so would those who are propelled by the draft to seek admission to military medical training programs.19
The preceding analysis reduces the problem to its simplest quantitative form. Other significant influences not considered are increased or decreased international threats, unemployment rates among the prime age groups, and, most important, Army image. Nevertheless, even a cursory examination leads to the conclusion that without additional benefits and incentives quantitative problems will exist under the all-volunteer concept.
Quality A military force derives its vitality from the experience and capabilities of its personnel. No organization can function effectively with minimally qualified people. A military restricted to an input level just sufficient to meet minimum aptitude scores would lack provision for the career element of the force, with its cadre of combat leaders, technicians, and men of higher skills.
Since 1941, the military requirement for technical and scientific skills has more than doubled, while the requirement for exclusively military skills has declined by two-thirds.20 Skill distribution between the military and civilian sectors was once clear. Today this delineation has become obscured; the military finds itself in active competition with other segments of society for the same types of technical, scientific, managerial, and leadership skills. The question confronting the military is whether, without the draft, it can meet the requirements of ever-increasing sophistication in technology and weaponry.
The draft has not only affected the quantity but also the quality composition of the armed forces. The characteristics of first-term, draft-motivated enlistees in 1968 are revealing (Table I). Note that pressure to enlist was substantially higher for those over twenty years of age when compared with the seven-teen-nineteen year old group (70 percent vs. 48 percent). When compared to those with less than a high school education, high school graduates and those with at least some college were also more inclined to enlist because of the impending threat of the draft (33 percent vs. 50 percent and 72 percent). These data indicate that as age and educational levels rise so does draft motivation.
The military services also receive many non-prior service personnel who have civilian-acquired skills, such as those in the behavioral sciences or computer field, which are usable without extensive additional training. The savings in advanced individual training dollars is considerable, amounting to $60 million each year for the Army alone. Interestingly, a review of Army records for the months of March, April, and May 1969, reveals that 90 percent of these direct accessions entered the Army through the draft, and only 10 percent by enlistment.21
If quality declines seriously under a volunteer system, it will affect not only the internal structure of the armed services but also their effectiveness as a fighting force. This is particularly true with the Army. It must be remembered that while the basic requirements of leadership, courage, and practical intelligence are still in demand, these alone are no longer sufficient to cope with the technical advances and future needs of a modern volunteer Army.
While it is dangerous to speculate on future human behavior, indicators reveal several problems which may be encountered if high standards are not maintained. If mental prerequisites were lowered simply to achieve quantity, we would in effect be announcing that quality is no longer desired. Quality attracts quality. As quality declines, training costs increase due to increased attrition and recycling rates. Worst of all, the lower the quality, the greater the training requirement and the larger the total force needed to provide a rapid and effective military response.
Another ramification of lower-quality personnel concerns discipline. Discipline is the heart and soul of an effective military force. Without it there can be no military. Recently developed Army statistics reveal a direct relationship between low educational levels and stockade strength.22 While constituting only 19 percent of the total Army population, soldiers with less than a high school education represent nearly 77 percent of the Army's correctional holding population. There are over twice as many representing the lower mental category in these holding detachments than their Army-wide strength warrants. It is interesting to note that during the 1947-48 no-draft period a significant drop occurred in the average mental category with an attendant rise in courts-martial rates.
Quality is critical to the establishment of a viable and responsive modern volunteer force. Standards must be maintained and incentives developed which will compete for the kind of manpower the services need. The defense of our nation demands nothing less.
Flexibility Two standards determine military flexibility: the ability to meet, first, short-term and, second, long-range demands for trained personnel and units. The active forces exist to respond to a sudden national security crisis, and the reserve components to reinforce personnel and units in the near term. Selective Service, in turn, must supply the long-range needs.
If the nation's manpower and material resources could be shifted immediately from civilian to military uses, the active and reserve forces could be maintained at lower levels. But the magnitude of the need for military forces cannot be foreseen, since this depends on events beyond our control. Even if we had universal military training, unless that training is continued, it would take months to retrain in an emergency.23 And a fortiori, neither initial volunteers nor draftees could be trained quickly enough to fulfill the short-term manpower requirements associated with a sudden military need. This means that the ready reserve forces must fill the void.
Although the ready reserve strength is nearly at its statutory limitation of 2.9 million, the vast majority of these men enlisted because of draft pressure. The exact number of draft-induced personnel remains a matter of conjecture, but a 1968 Department of Defense survey revealed that 80 percent of the first-term reserve volunteers were draft-motivated.24 Other analyses have placed this figure at over 90 percent.
It seems certain that the current high manning level enjoyed by the reserves is a direct result of the draft. These draft-motivated enlistments have benefited the reserves in several ways: they have provided reserve units with a waiting list of young men, they have insured a high level of participation and performance because of the threat of being ordered back to active duty for unsatisfactory performance, and they have provided more highly educated accessions than could otherwise have been expected.
The removal of the draft would eliminate these benefits and cause a precipitous drop in ready reserve strength. Unpublished statistics of an Army task group studying the all-volunteer concept estimated that without the draft the combined enlisted drill strength of the Army National Guard and organized Army Reserve would drop from 585,144 in fiscal year 1970 to 187,077 in fiscal year 1975.25 This is far below the Army's short-term reinforcing requirements.
In the absence of the draft, the reserves' manpower procurement problems will center on four areas: first, the loss of draft-induced enlistments (which will probably result in a general lowering of age and educational levels); second, a general reluctance among men to undertake a six-year initial enlistment obligation (which will in turn probably result in a reduction of the current six-year term to three years, tending to double turnover rates); third, keen competition from business and industry for part-time service; and finally, the need to train recruiters and develop an effective recruiting program.26
The task will not be easy. The economic and social factors motivating reserve enlistments prior to World War II are no longer operative. Pay, as a supplement to income, is no longer important. With few exceptions, armories are no longer the focal point for community and social activities. Recognition and social acceptance for reserve participation have declined sharply. While patriotism still motivates many in today's sociopolitical environment, it is not strong enough to solve either the reserves' or the active forces' procurement problems.
Implication for the Future This paper has emphasized some of the many doubts regarding the feasibility of the volunteer concept. Yet well-developed studies indicate that with the proper mix of incentives and benefits manpower procurement can be improved to a point where the pre-Vietnam strength level can be sustained by volunteers. Why then state the doubts? Because if the volunteer concept is to become a reality, the simultaneous support of many segments of society is needed, and that support has yet to be mustered.
Many military leaders, for example, doubt Defense Department and Congressional support for those programs., necessary to attract the quantity and quality of personnel required. They fear the reserves, whose importance grows larger as force levels decline, will be reduced to ineffective levels. Their dedication to "duty, honor, country" has imbued in them a philosophical belief that all young men owe to their country a military obligation. They resent public attacks on the military in which they feel only military errors are cited and positive contributions are ignored.
These doubts only compound the change-resistant nature of bureaucracy, in which there exists gentle foot-dragging when it comes to moving from traditional "certainties" to the uncertainties of new concepts and approaches. But dramatic changes are taking place, despite the built-in inertia of many dedicated men and women in the armed forces who simply do not recognize that to remain dynamic the military must change with changing times.
In support of the President's national goal of an all-volunteer armed force, the Department of Defense and the military services have launched an all-out effort to improve service attractiveness. Some of these programs can and are already operating within the current funds and authority of the services. Notable among these are the Army's elimination of unnecessary formations such as reveille, the reduced work week, the allowance of increased freedom of movement, the liberalized pass policies, the reduction of menial tasks, the improvement of barracks life, and an intensified recruiting effort. Other necessary programs require additional funds or legislative authority. Included in this category are special pay for the combat arms, increased active-duty educational programs, even more recruitment advertising including the purchase of prime time on television and radio, and, most important, the elevation of military pay to levels competitive with civilian industry.
Laudable as these efforts to change the military environment may be, the armed forces cannot do it alone. Funds must be provided by Congress, and the American people must lend their full support to the effort, particularly the enormously influential news media. The public prestige of the military seems never to have been lower, and unless this trend is reversed, the services' ability to attract volunteers will be greatly limited. As General Westmoreland, the Army Chief of Staff, has said, "We cannot attract the kind of soldier we need into an organization denigrated by some, directly attacked by others, and halfheartedly supported by many."27
It is widely recognized that increased pay and other incentives necessary to attract on the open labor market the quantity and quality of personnel required will drive the cost of an all-volunteer force higher than a draft-supported force of the same size. No one knows exactly, what that cost will be. Estimates range from $3 to $17 billion in additional annual expenditures. This wide range of judgments prevails, since it is almost impossible to predict future human behavior and relate increased incentives to increased enlistments. Assuming the pre-Vietnam force level of 2.5 million, a reasonable estimate would seem to be $5 to $6 billion additional each year. This does not seem unreasonable when it is realized that, the volunteer question aside, the quality of military life ought to be equal with that of the civilian community.
Of course, in addition to raising the standard of service life, the military will have to pay for the skills it needs. It can then be a proud professional force in which its members are, in fact, first-class servicemen who know their trade, are reliable, and adequately compensated for their talents. The volunteer force can regain its lost pride through professionalism, dedication, and job satisfaction; and the armed forces can be respected by the public because of that professional pride and dedication. It can, moreover, be a disciplined force, for it stands to reason that a satisfied serviceman, treated justly and proud of his job, will be a disciplined soldier.
Although the manpower procurement arrangement can probably be changed to attract volunteers, there remains unanswered a fundamental social question. Should the United States expect only a small fraction of the 2 million young men turning eighteen each year to voluntarily serve the nation in a military or civilian capacity, or should all be expected to serve?
There is little doubt that volunteers are needed desperately not only in the military but also in such civilian fields as teaching, medicine, and conservation.28 The need extends beyond the boundaries of the United States to countries worldwide. While there is great support by the administration and a bipartisan group of Congressmen for an all-volunteer force,29 there is also strong sentiment for some form of national service.30 But advocates of national service are divided on whether it should be voluntary or compulsory; if it is to be universal for all young men, then it must be compulsory.
A compulsory national service law has great appeal to those who believe that it is vital to the interests of this nation that all young men maintain a sense of national participation and obligation to their country. It appeals also to those who want to serve but want an alternative to military service. Affluence has given this youth of today time to ponder the ills of society. He has been exposed to dissent, controversy, antiwar sentiment, violence in the streets, and issues of social judgment. He does not remember World War II or even Korea where there were still many true volunteers motivated to enlist from a sense of patriotism. He does, however, remember Vietnam where the flames of patriotism were banked by antiwar demonstrations and antiwar groups who openly dispensed information on how to beat the draft. In many cases, this youth suspects the motives and values of military service. He wants an alternative.
A system of compulsory national service could provide that alternative by allowing those subject to the draft to select military or civilian activities such as the Peace Corps, VISTA, or the Job Corps. Military service then would be encouraged by better pay and benefits and might well appeal to some more than two or three years in the ghetto or a South American village. It would also keep the Selective System functioning and the machinery oiled for rapid response in the event of a national emergency.
Of course, national service must emerge through an evolutionary process. We know little of what the role of youth can and should be. We do know, however, that the move toward an all-volunteer force is a step in the direction of easing tension and providing alternatives. Even if we fail to achieve our goal, we will have brought long-delayed improvements to the quality of life of those who must wear our nation's uniform.