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)
Congress Moves to End Conscription and Reform Selective Service
Reactions to President Nixon’s messages were mixed both across the country and in Congress.61 John Ford, member of the House Armed Services Committee’s professional staff at the time and later its staff director, reflected years later on the mood of the committee in 1971. In 1980, he told cadets at West Point that some committee members had opposed the all-volunteer force, remembering the failure of the all-volunteer force in 1948, and that “some of the older ones . . . [had a] bias in favor of the draft . . . [and] great skepticism . . . that an all-volunteer force would work” (Ford, 1980).
This issue cut across traditional lines and made strange bedfellows.62 Some in Congress who favored the all-volunteer force wanted to move forward on the timetable suggested by the Gates Commission and end conscription by July 1, 1971. Others favored the two-year extension requested by the President. Some liberals, like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), thought that “a volunteer force during wartime would be mercenary, composed of the poor, black, and uneducated” (Lee and Parker, 1977, p. 9621.7 MB). Some conservatives, like Senator John Stennis, thought that a volunteer force was “a flight from reality.” On the other side of the issue, liberals like Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) and conservatives like Senator Barry Goldwater found common ground in supporting the abolition of the draft. The immediate issue was the extension of induction authority to accompany a pay increase for new recruits as the administration moved toward a “zero draft.”63
While Congress eventually supported the President in his request for a two-year extension of induction authority, its members could not resist changing his compensation package. The House passed a pay increase in excess of what the administration had asked for and increased the allowances for subsistence, quarters, and dependents that the Gates Commission had argued against.64 The Senate rejected the administration’s pay proposal and eventually voted to support the original pay proposals of the Gates Commission.65 The conference committee, however, rewrote the compensation package at the $2.4 billion level.66 At the last minute, a glitch developed when Senator Gordon Allott (R-Colorado) objected to the conference report and tried to go around it by amending the upcoming military procurement bill (Allott, 19710.1 MB). Nixon personally telephoned Senator Allott and committed to a later supplemental pay raise.67
After a decade of debate and an unpopular war, it was finally settled. Responding to what some saw as the “national will,” on August 4, 1971, the House accepted the conference report by a vote of 250 to 150.68 On September 21, 1971, the Senate accepted the conference report by a vote of 55 to 30. On September 28, 1971, President Nixon signed Public Law 92-129, and with that he kept his campaign promise to “stop the draft and put the selective service structure on stand-by” (Nixon, 1971a, p. 20.3 MB).69
61 To get a sense of the nation’s take, DoD had assessed the reactions of 55 major news commentators.
Forty-seven percent (26) favored the administration’s plan. Thirty-three percent (18) were strongly opposed to establishing an all-volunteer force. Twenty percent (11) were strongly opposed to any further extension of the draft and wished to establish an all-volunteer force immediately. (Annunziata, 19711.8 MB)
62 The White House communication group was concerned about who would get credit. After quoting a presidential news summary as referring to the efforts of a “unique Congressional coalition of Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives,” Alexander Butterfield went on to stress “the importance of our getting credit for this, and making certain that we don’t let this group steal our ideas” (Butterfield, 19690.1 MB).
63 John Ford saw the term “zero draft” as Nixon “hedging his bet by reducing draft calls to zero but keeping the authority on the books if needed” (Ford, 1980).
64 Lee notes that
[t]he Administration had requested $79 million in quarters allowances, with all of it going to junior personnel, thereby allowing the repeal of the Dependents Assistance Act of 1950. The committeemen raised this amount to $824.2 million, with most of it going to the career force but still providing even greater allowances for first-termers than the Administration had requested. Finally, the committee allocated $37.8 million in subsistence allowances, with over 60 percent of it going to the career force. The Administration bill had provided no additional subsistence allowances. (Lee and Parker, 1977, p. 11721.7 MB)
65 Kissinger reported to the President that the Senate was “considering a number of significant modifications . . . that will adversely affect our military capabilities and the foreign policies dependent upon them” (Kissinger, 19710.6 MB). Nixon instructed Laird “[to] actively lead an Administration-wide effort aimed at preventing any substantial reduction by the Congress in the levels of our ground forces capabilities” (Nixon, 1971c0.5 MB).
66 The administration had wanted $1.0 billion for FY 1971.
67 This commitment to Allott played an important role in the future management of the all-volunteer force by limiting options available to the Pentagon.
68 John Ford told the West Point cadets,
More than any other bill I can think of, the Congress was responding to what they thought was the national will. They were doing what they thought the people want done, hoping that it would work, although a lot of them had reservations about it. One truism over time about the House of Representatives is they will eventually come around to do what they think the majority [of the people] wants. (Ford, 1980)
69 H.R. 6531 authorized an extension of the draft for two years, until July 1, 1973. It increased military pay a total of $1.8 billion over nine months:
The largest increase was in basic pay primarily for those with short service ($1.4 billion). Other increases included basic allowances for quarters ($305 million) and dependents assistance allowance ($120 million). . . .
Enlistment bonuses are authorized . . . up to $6,000 for men enlisting in the combat elements . . . initial use of the authority would be to pay $3,000 bonuses . . . . (White House Press Secretary, 19710.1 MB)