I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Army
In September 2003, it was my privilege to participate in a two-day conference at the National Defense University. The occasion was the 30th anniversary of the all-volunteer force. Those assembled included some who were present at the start of the all-volunteer force and others who shared responsibility for the future all-volunteer force and for national security policy. I noted then the importance of such an event. We would remind ourselves of where and how the all-volunteer force started, of the successes and difficulties of the all-volunteer force through the ensuing three decades, and of what needs to be done to ensure positive future chemistry between the all-volunteer force and national security strategy.
The conference was a success. Yet two days of presentations and discussions are scarcely sufficient to identify, explore, and analyze in depth the myriad issues the all-volunteer force involves. Justice to the all-volunteer force and its seminal role in national policy requires an in-depth pioneering study — wide in scope, accurate in detail, rich in analysis, penetrating in insight, and most importantly, accessible to a vast audience.
Bernard Rostker is delivering that justice. The research and analysis presented in this volume are at once comprehensive in both scope and depth. Indeed, the work constitutes a virtual archive of the many events, issues, facets, and fundamentals constituting the all-volunteer force. The research and documentation exceed by far, in my judgment, any prior attempts to explore this subject.
Few people have the motivation, the capacity, or the endurance to undertake quality research into such a complex array of political, economic, social, and technical issues. The shift from conscription to an all-volunteer force involved a rich recipe of all those aspects and more. Bernard Rostker deserves our gratitude for this ambitious and major contribution.
As an aside, it may be noted that the personalities involved in molding such a complex ingredient mix into effective public policy necessarily reflected a wide array of motivations, insights, biases, and emotions. Trying to capture these personality insights is among the most difficult of research tasks. In reading this volume, one could infer that, while Secretary of Defense, I hesitated on occasion in my support for the Gates Commission or was not aggressive in implementing changes in personnel acquisition practices. Such is not the case. The times were complex; the changes were significant; and our efforts had to be orchestrated carefully. We were prosecuting two wars (the Cold War and Southeast Asia); I had to manage the impact of a declining defense budget; and, politically, we faced major opposition in the Services, the Congress, and even from some in the White House as we moved away from the draft. It was mandatory, in my judgment, that we proceed deliberately and thoughtfully toward an all-volunteer force.
Time was needed. Congressional support was, of course, essential. It took months and substantial effort to garner that support. Likewise, it was desirable for other reasons to convince the Services and the military leadership of the all-volunteer force’s value. Again, that took some cultivation. Most importantly, the strategy of Total Force in which the all-volunteer force would be embedded required explanation. Total Force involved not only revising the integration, use, and cultures of the active and reserve components but also incorporating other nations more effectively into a cohesive defense effort. Altering the active and reserve structure was by itself a major task. Attempting to increase the defense value of our many bilateral and multilateral security relationships would likewise take time. Accelerating the pace of change toward the all-volunteer force would have risked failure. It was crucial, in my judgment, that the all-volunteer force succeed.
It is important to note that Rostker does not attempt to render a final verdict in the concept or future of the all-volunteer force. The all-volunteer force is dynamic, requiring study and understanding. Those who are interested in or, especially, engaged in national security, economic, political, or social policy would do well to use Bernard Rostker’s work to the fullest extent possible, especially as they deal with the all-volunteer force issues in the future.
Melvin R. Laird
Secretary of Defense (1969-1973)
Counselor to the President (1973-1974)
Nine-Term Member of the United States House of Representatives (1952-1968)