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)
The President Addresses Congress
Even before the President had settled on a course of action, work went forward to craft the speech he would deliver to Congress. On January 10, 1970, Martin Anderson got the process started with a memorandum to the Deputy Assistant to the President, Ken Cole (Anderson, 1970a0.3 MB). On March 5, 1970, presidential speechwriter Pat Buchanan checked in with Anderson, telling him he had “been detailed to handle the Volunteer Army Message” (Buchanan, 19700.3 MB). When the message was circulated for comment in early April, there was still one remaining pocket of opposition at the White House, President’s Nixon’s “new” Advisor to the President on Manpower Mobili- zation, General Hershey. With the President’s decision before him, Hershey tried one last time to get Nixon to change his mind. He told the President that the “presumption that the national security can be maintained by armed forces provided by added pay incentives is based on hopes that have not been sustained by the history of the United States.” He was particularly concerned, “The message gives encouragement to those who desire to be relieved from obligations of military service” (Hershey, 1970c, p. 11.0 MB). Notwithstanding General Hershey’s misgivings, Nixon sent the message to Congress on April 23, 1970.
The special address outlined the phased implementation of the Gates Commission’s recommendations. On top of an already-approved 6-percent pay raise for all federal employees, Nixon asked Congress to approve a 20-percent pay increase for enlisted men with less than two years of service, as Laird had suggested. He promised an additional $2.0 billion the next fiscal year (FY 1972) “to help attract and retain the personnel we need for our Armed Forces” (Nixon, 1970b1.6 MB). Nixon also directed Laird to expand programs designed to increase enlistments and retention. Following Laird’s recommendation, he did not endorse the move to an all-volunteer force by June 30, 1971.57 Citing our “responsibilities in Vietnam and our overall foreign policy,” Nixon said that “no one can predict with precision whether or not, or precisely when, we can end conscription . . .” but also said that he was “confident that, barring any unforeseen development this proposed program will achieve our objective [of ending the draft]” (Nixon, 1970b1.6 MB).
He noted that the current authority to induct draftees into the armed services expired on July 1, 1971, and called on Congress to extend this authority. Nixon also called on Congress to implement a number of reforms to “deal with the draft as it now exists.” He moved to phase out &mdsh; not immediately eliminate — the system of deferments. He told Congress that, by executive order, he would direct that “no future deferments . . . be granted on the basis of employment . . . [or] paternity” (Nixon, 1970b1.6 MB). He asked Congress to restore his authority to control student deferments. Nixon also radically changed the system by which young men were called into service. He asked Congress to suspend the quota system in favor of a national random-selection system. He also committed himself, once these measures were approved, to “authorize the Selective Service System to establish a plan under which the draft call each month will be on a national basis, with the same lottery sequence number called throughout the country” (Nixon, 1970b1.6 MB).58
As had occurred the year before with Selective Service reform, there was a delay before Congress agreed to start hearings on the President’s proposals. In fact, nothing happened during the remainder of 1970. In an end-of-year memorandum, eight months after the President’s speech, Laird told Kissinger that he believed the Senate Armed Services Committee would hold hearings “as early as February 1 , on the extension of Selective Service induction authority and other amendments to the Selective Service Act” (Laird, 1970h0.2 MB) and pressed his view on that and other related issues. In fact, in early January 1971, the White House got the same message from Chairman Stennis, who expressed his “desire for a prompt and firm Administration position on all items related to draft legislation” (Rose, 19710.5 MB). By late January, Laird could report to Kissinger that
Senator Stennis . . . has scheduled early hearings on extension of induction authority under the Selective Service Act and on other matters related to the Administration’s plan to move toward an All-Volunteer Armed Force. I will be the first witness on Tuesday, February 2, 1971. (Laird, 1971a1.6 MB)
Laird also actively engaged with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In what he would later describe as a “private agreement,” Laird agreed with committee chairman F. Edward Hebert (D-Louisiana) that DoD would withdraw its opposition to the Military Medical School he had been trying to get through Congress in exchange for the his promise to move the draft legislation (Laird, 2003b).59
On January 28, 1971, President Nixon sent a second message to Congress “to move toward an all-volunteer force” (Nixon, 1971b0.2 MB) and to fund the transition program as part of the FY 1972 budget.60 He proposed
an additional $1.5 billion in making military service more attractive to present and potential members, with most of this to be used to provide a pay raise for enlisted men with less than two years of service, effective May 1, 1971. . . .
[O]ne-fifth of the additional 1.5 billion [would] be devoted to expanding our efforts in the areas of recruiting, medical scholarships, ROTC, improvement of housing, and other programs to enhance the quality of military life. (Nixon, 1971b, p. 20.2 MB)
He also told Congress that he had directed the Secretary of Defense to “recommend . . . such further additions to military compensation as may be necessary to make the financial rewards of military life fully competitive with those in the civilian sector” (Lee and Parker, 1977, p. 8921.7 MB). Again noting that “[n]o one knows precisely when we can end conscription,” Nixon asked Congress to extend induction authority until July 1, 1973, and promised that “[w]e shall make every endeavor to reduce draft calls to zero by this time.”
57 Tarr favored a four-year extension, as noted in OASD[M&RA] (19710.2 MB).
58 The President also asked Laird “to give high priority to the expansion of programs to increase enlistments and retention in the Services and to report every quarter on the progress . . .” (Laird, 1971b2.2 MB).
59 Laird not only withdrew is opposition but actively lobbied Elliot Richardson (Laird, 1970g0.1 MB), Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, to support the idea of a “National University of the Health Sciences.” Richardson did not agree and told Laird that “HEW’s earlier position should not be modified at this time” (Richardson, 19700.1 MB). Louis M. Rousselot, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health and Environment and a major proponent of the idea within the Pentagon, provided his boss, Roger Kelley, and, later, Martin Anderson at the White House with an assessment that could be used to rebut Richardson’s opposition (Rousselot, 1971a0.1 MB) (Rousselot, 1971b0.2 MB). By early February, Anderson had drafted an “options paper” for the President (Anderson, 19710.1 MB). Laird remembers that, in the end,
the President told me to do what I thought best, and I testified for the medical university before Congress. The medical university was built in Bethesda, and the all-volunteer force sailed through the House Armed Services Committee &mdsh; an example of how the consensus-building process sometimes worked. (Laird, 2003b)