I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Army
The President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force – the Gates Commission – and Selective Service Reform (1969-1970)
Now, as promised, it was Laird’s turn to opine on the subject.49 While he would not oppose the basic contention and recommendations of the commission, he took exception to a move to an all-volunteer force by June 30, 1971, and made no attempt to hide his position from the public.50 On March 11, 1970, he wrote the President to formally “endorse” the basic conclusion of the report.51 In a subtle but meaningful turn of phrase, he suggested that “the main emphasis should be on reducing draft calls to zero rather than achieving an All-Volunteer Force, even though the objective of each is identical” (Laird, 1970d0.3 MB). Anticipating the strategy that would work in Congress, he explained that it would “be easier to reach your objective by focusing public attention on eliminating the draft rather than stirring those who object to the concept of an All-Volunteer Force” (Laird, 1970d0.3 MB). Accordingly, the following October, he established “the goal of zero draft calls by the end of FY 1973” (Laird, 1970f0.1 MB). His final words, however, were cautionary:
The Administration cannot be placed in the position of having to reduce forces below National Security Council recommendations because it has acted too soon in taking irreversible steps to eliminate the draft. (Laird, 1970d, p. 6)
49 Kelley had provided DoD’s informal comments to Martin Anderson on February 27, 1970 (Kelley, 1970b0.2 MB).
50 On January 29, 1970, Laird met with the 1970 Senate Youth Program Group. In answering a question on the volunteer force, he expresses some concern about whether “we have the kind of support presently in the Congress for the additional funding that would be necessary” to move to an all-volunteer force (Laird, 1970b, p. 50.5 MB). The following day, the Washington Post carried a headline: “Laird Dim on Prospects for All-Volunteer Army” (Wilson, 1970). Anderson was concerned that “statements like Laird’s undercut the President in an important policy area.” In a memorandum to John Ehrlichman, Anderson recommended that Laird “be reminded of the President’s policy and instructed to support that policy until it is changed” (Anderson, 1970b0.1 MB). The record does not show who, if anyone, was so bold as to “instruct” Secretary Laird on this point. Moreover, on March 2, 1970, Laird received from the Systems Analysis office an assessment that supported his judgment that the demands the war in Vietnam made on the Pentagon would have to come down before the country could move to an all-volunteer force:
With a 20% first term pay increase, we expect modest enlistment surpluses in all Services by FY 73. . . . In summary, all-volunteer Service is a viable goal. . . . It is not practical during FY 71, would be difficult in FY 72, but will be feasible . . . in FY 73. (OASD[SA], 1970a0.4 MB)