PINEHURST, N.C. — I am frequently asked about the relative size of our armed forces. Do we have enough for all the demands around the world? Should there be additional manpower in one service at the expense of another service? How long can we
keep asking so much of our National Guard and reserve forces
These questions are generally the prelude to a more burning question these folks have on their mind. Should we re-institute the draft? They further ask if conscription isn't the easiest and cheapest way to expand the armed forces. It may just be the easiest and cheapest. Less money could be spent on recruiting for the Army and Marines. I cite these two services because historically that is where the conscripted or drafted men ended up. Training costs could be less because the draftees would in many cases be trained in the less skilled and less technical career fields recognizing that many would not be in service long enough to insure a training payback.
There are other advantages to re-instituting the draft. Many young men (please recall that the Selective Service laws only pertain to males) who otherwise would not join the military would benefit from the training, the discipline and the head start on life. More men from across the entire socio-economic spectrum would share these experiences. Some of the draftees would choose to re-enlist following their mandatory service and become career members of our active duty armed forces. Others might voluntarily choose to continue serving in the Guard or reserve after separating from active duty.
In spite of these obvious advantages of drafting young men into our military, there are also some obvious disadvantages. Think for a moment of the concerns we hear daily about how we as a nation are disrupting the lives, careers and families of our reserve forces who are being asked to leave their families and put their careers on hold for up to a year or more. We would be doing the same "disrupting" to tens of thousands of young men every year should we initiate a draft. However, there is one major difference here. Our Guardsmen and reservists are all volunteers. They asked to serve. The draftees would not have volunteered.
Does volunteerism really make a difference? You bet it does. My career in the United States Air Force spanned both the years of conscription and the years of the all-volunteer force. Although the Air Force never took any draftees, we did have enlisted members who were draft motivated. Essentially, as they saw their number coming up, they chose the Air Force over the other services. I can tell you from experience I will take the volunteer every day.
We do not need a psychologist to tell us that folks who want to do something … anything … will generally be more content, more productive and more willing to contribute to a cause than those who were told to do it. That certainly bears true in the military. Let me cite one example.
Several years ago, as a Colonel, I was deployed to a remote location with several hundred officers and enlisted personnel from my unit. I was out on the ramp one morning about 4:00AM and came across a young sergeant who was within 30 days of separating from the Air Force. Trying to be cheerful, I said "…doesn't time fly when you are having fun sergeant?" He looked me right in the eye and said "You have that garbage all wrong Colonel. Fun flies when you are serving time. And that is all I am doing here is serving time."
I can tell you from a lot of years of experience that it is not easy to motivate those who are simply "serving time." The role of our armed forces in today's world war on terror is simply too dangerous and too demanding to be turned over to those who are simply serving out a mandated term of enlistment.
We should not return to the days of conscription! We do not need a draft in the United States of America. We turned that corner in 1973. We, as a nation, concluded it was better for America if we recruited and retained motivated soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard men and women. The decision was appropriately made to pay them better, to provide them with a better quality of life for themselves and their families, and to insure quality education programs were made available to them. We dubbed it the All Volunteer Force.
The All Volunteer Force has been around for three decades. It has produced an incredibly well trained and well motivated military which has excelled at serving our nation. We see glimpses of these men and women daily on our TV screens. They are articulate and professional. They serve us well. Let's stick with the All Volunteer Force. It has worked!