I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Army
What Have We Done?
A Summary of Then and Now (1960–2006)
Effects on the Military: From 1973 to the Present
The all-volunteer force has changed the American military in remarkable ways. The “quality” of the force, measured by scores on standardized IQ tests, has improved. The percentage of new recruits who are high school diploma graduates was increased. The all-volunteer force has dramatically increased the number of career personnel and increased the proficiency and professionalism of the force. Despite fears that an all-volunteer force would separate the Army from the American people, the all-volunteer force is broadly representative of the American people. Some have argued that this has come at the expense of widening the political gap between the military and society and have blamed this on the lack of a draft. This is a new kind of representationalism, based not on race, gender, socioeconomic status, educational achievement, or geography but on political values.
The quality of personnel that the services access under the all-volunteer force has remarkably improved since the days of the draft. Under the Vietnam War-era draft, the services used a quota system to ensure the “equitable” distribution of manpower on the basis of mental ability. Each service was required to take a specified percentage of Mental Category IV personnel.8 Mental Category IV personnel are between the 10th and 30th percentile of the population. On a standard intelligence test — the Stanford-Binet IQ test — this represents a test score range between about 72 and 91. Mental Category V, the lowest 10 percent of the population, is never taken.9 Those opposed to the all-volunteer force in Congress, who were unsuccessful in their attempts to block President Nixon’s initiative, turned their attention to the issue of quality. If there was going to be an all-volunteer force, it would have to have a 55-percent floor on high school graduates, as opposed to the 45-percent floor the services had had, and a ceiling of 18 percent on Mental Category IV personnel. Many at the time, particularly opponents of the all-volunteer force in Congress, thought these levels could not be achieved. To make a very long story short — discussed in the rest of this book — about 93 percent of accessions today are high school graduates, and the services take very few — in effect, no — Mental Category IV personnel.
The issue of representativeness had surfaced during the early debates about the all-volunteer force, during the deliberations of the Gates Commission; as the Army transitioned to the all-volunteer force; and, most recently, during the current war in Iraq and the War on Terrorism. In 1973, the recently retired Army Chief of Staff, General William Westmoreland, told the New York Times that “The social composition . . . (of the all-volunteer Army) bothers me. I deplore the prospect of our military forces not representing a cross-section of our society” (Franklin, 1973, p. 1).
For the last 26 years, the Department of Defense has annually reported on social representation in the U.S. Military. The most recent report noted the following (Chu, 20040.1 MB):
- Age. The active-duty population is younger than the overall civilian sector. Military personnel between the ages of 17 and 24 make up 49 percent of the active-duty force, compared to about 15 percent of the civilian workforce. Officers, while older than enlisted personnel — mean ages of 34 and 27, respectively — are younger than their civilian counterparts. The mean age of civilian college graduates in the 21-49 cohort is 36.
- Gender. While the number of females has risen sharply — 17 percent of active component accession and 24 percent of reserve component accession — they are still underrepresented. However, today 15 percent of the active-duty enlisted force is female, compared with less than two percent when the draft ended. The representations of women among active-duty officer accessions and in the officer corps in FY 2002 were 19 and 16 percent, respectively.
- Marital status. In addition to the increase in the number of women, the larger career force has meant that the number of service members who are married has also increased. At the start of the all-volunteer force, approximately 40 percent of enlisted members were married. At a high in 1994, 57 percent were married. Today, the number is 49 percent. Sixty-eight percent of all active-duty officers are married. Today’s military is family friendly. As a result, newcomers to the military are less likely than their civilian age counterparts to be married, but as time goes on, military members are more likely to be married than those in the civilian sector.
- Educational level. The most recent statistics show that 92 percent of the new accessions to the active component are regular high school graduates. The figure for the reserve components was 87 percent. Compare this with the 1973 goal of 45 percent and with the 79 percent for all 18- to 24-year-olds today. Ninety-five percent of active-duty officers have baccalaureate degrees, and 38 percent have advanced degrees.
- Mental aptitude. Today’s American military scores well above the general civilian population on standard tests of intelligence.10 The services currently accept almost no one from the two lowest mental categories, IV and V (scoring roughly 72 to 91), with one percent from Category IV and none from Category V. In contrast, 30 percent of civilians fall into these categories. For the top two categories, I and II (above 108), the military takes more than its fair share, with 41 percent of military personnel but only 36 percent of civilians falling into these two categories. Finally, more than twice as many military personnel as civilians fall into the middle category, III (92 to 107), with 58 percent for the military and 34 percent for civilians. Moreover, the reading level of new recruits is one year higher than their civilian counterparts.
- Socioeconomic status. The Survey of Recruit Socioeconomic Backgrounds — parents’ education, employment status, occupation, and home ownership — shows that recruits come primarily from families in the middle or lower middle class. The high end of the distribution was not well represented.
- Race and ethnicity. In FY 2002, African Americans were slightly overrepresented among new enlisted accessions relative to the civilian population, 16 percent compared with 14 percent. This is considerably below the 1973 level of 28 percent. African Americans make up 22 percent of the total enlisted force but only 13 percent of the 18- to 44-year-old civilian workforce.
Hispanics are underrepresented, making up 16 percent of all civilians but only 11 percent of new accessions.
The situation for officers is reversed; eight percent of newly commissioned officers were African Americans, and four percent were Hispanic. Interestingly, the prevalence of African American and Hispanic officers in the active-duty officer corps closely reflects the proportion of these groups in the relevant civilian, college-graduate population.
- Geographic representation. The geographic distribution of enlisted accessions for FY 2002 shows that the South continues to be overrepresented, with more than 40 percent of accessions. Compared with the civilian population, the representation ratio for 18- to 24-year-olds was 1.2 for the South and 0.8 for the Northeast. The ratio for the North Central and West was 0.9.
Professionalization of the Military
Probably the most important change in the all-volunteer force has been the professionalization of the military as retention increased and as the services were able to devote fewer resources to training new personnel. In 1969, when President Nixon established the Gates Commission, only 18 percent of the Army had more than four years of service. The corresponding numbers for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force were 31, 16, and 46 percent, respectively. By 1977, the percentages had grown to 37 percent for the Army and 42, 26, and 54 percent for the other services, respectively. Today, having fully achieved an all-volunteer force, the numbers stand at 51 percent for the Army, 49 percent for the Navy, 35 percent for the Marine Corps, and 66 percent for the Air Force. In the early 1970s, before the all-volunteer force, the services routinely retained about 15 percent of the cohort of true volunteers, draft-motivated volunteers, and draftees who were eligible to reenlist. Today, the corresponding number is about 53 percent. The exception is the Marine Corps, which restricts reenlistments to about 25 percent of those eligible to reenlist to maintain the desired force profile.
The Political Gap Between the Military and Society
It has become popular to argue that the all-volunteer force is responsible for, as the title of one book puts it, Widening the Gap Between the Military and Society (Ricks, 19970.3 MB). Those who hold this view argue that, because we do not have a draft, the ignorance of American elites about the military has deepened. But when, short of mobilization, have “American elites” had a firsthand knowledge of the military? While it cannot be denied that fewer current members of Congress have served in the military than those serving in Congress when conscription was ended in 1973, the large number of veterans serving in the past was the result of the mass mobilizations of World War II and Korea. Unlike the World War II and Korea generations, many from the draft-era Vietnam generation serving today in Congress did not serve in the military. The basic point is that there are no clear linkages, from the past or with respect to the current situation, that demonstrate how differences between the military leadership’s political orientation and that of the political elite, especially elected members of Congress, have translated to a less-capable military, a weakened nation, a disaffected youth, or disproportionate burdens on certain segments of society. To claim that differences have changed in an adverse way since the advent of the all-volunteer force is to assume knowledge of adverse consequences even though actual evidence is lacking.