I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Army
What Have We Done?
A Summary of Then and Now (1960–2006)
The Final Chapter Has Not Been Written
In January 2002, William Cohen spoke to the men and women of the armed forces about his four years as Secretary of Defense. He ended his remarks by saying:
On countless occasions I’ve been asked by foreign leaders, “How can our military be more like America’s?” I’ll repeat here today what I’ve said time and time again. It’s not our training, although our training is the most rigorous in the world. It’s not our technology, although ours is the most advanced in the world. And it’s not our tactics, although ours is [sic] the most revolutionary in the world. We have the finest military on Earth because we have the finest people on Earth, because we recruit and we retain the best that America has to offer. (Cohen, 20010.1 MB)
In the final account, when the draft ceased to be a means of universal service, it lost its legitimacy and was doomed. The alternative to the draft, the all-volunteer force, has been a resounding success for the American military and the American people. It has resulted in a professional, career-oriented military that has proven itself on battlefields throughout the world. It is a force that is generally representative of American society and has provided outstanding employment opportunities for groups that have long been excluded from the mainstream of society. It is a leading employer of women, with equal pay for equal work. It is the most racially integrated institution in America.11 It is a resilient and flexible force that has integrated the full-time, active-duty soldier with his part-time, civilian reserve counterpart to form a truly total force. Moreover, this has been done with an affordable budget and with a competitive wage. Today, people join because they want to join, not because someone is forcing them to serve. Today the all-volunteer force is one that values the individual, and through increased levels of retention, individuals signal back that they value the all-volunteer force.
The last chapter of the evolution of the all-volunteer force has not yet been written. As demonstrated countless times over the past 30 years, the all-volunteer force is a fragile institution. In the past, insensitivity to the needs of service members and their families resulted in low enlistments and poor-quality recruits. Today, the fragility of the all-volunteer force comes from extended operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, the increase in operational tempo for active and reserve forces has not resulted in significant recruitment shortages, although the active Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are having increasing difficulty recruiting new personnel. For the total force, the picture is not as bleak as it might be because of good retention. The professionalism of the all-volunteer force is paying off. As the Army struggles, those charged with managing the force are vigilant and, with the knowledge gained over 30 years, certainly will certainly do their utmost to ensure the continued success of the all-volunteer force. However, only time will tell.
11 Aline Quester and Curtis Gilroy, in their review of the changing status of women and minorities (Quester and Gilroy, 2002, p. 120), found that
In the years since the advent of the volunteer force, the U.S. military has become more racially and ethnically diverse. It also appears to have successfully integrated women. Moreover, even though the process from entry-level to top leadership positions has taken a long time, both the current top enlisted and officer ranks have richer minority and female representation than the accession cohorts from which they were drawn.