PINEHURST, N.C. — Earlier this month I spent some time in the WRAL-TV5 studios discussing the current state of affairs for the recruiting efforts of our armed services.
Each year about this time, the media takes interest in the successes or failures of military recruiters. There is a reason for the timing: Our federal government operates on an Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 fiscal year.
Congress stipulates in law the total number of military men and women that each of the military services may have on active duty at the close of each fiscal year. There are also finite numbers for the National Guard and reserve forces. The total number for any service or component is partially driven by budget concerns. The Air Force Chief of Staff has noted that for each 10,000 airmen on active duty the costs are between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.
Congress does allow a fraction of 1 percent deviation in the numbers because they recognize how difficult it is to hit the number right on the head on any given day. Further, Congress allows for an overage in times of war such as we currently experience.
There has been considerable coverage in the media, as well as discussion among political candidates, concerning the difficulty recruiting and retaining military men and women due to the combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of the commentary focuses on the National Guard and reserve troops who have been pulled away from their homes, families and professional careers for extended periods of active duty.
Unfortunately, the discussion is too frequently based on anecdotal evidence and individual stories rather than the big picture. Just as we should not generalize about the patriotic enlistments such as we saw with NFL star Pat Tillman, we should not generalize about the reservist down the street who chooses not to re-up for another term.
To be sure there has been a toll on Guard and reserve recruiting, and there is a realistic concern about retention in these components. For the first time in a decade the National Guard will fall short of its recruiting goals. This is troubling for the long haul because we have come to rely so heavily on our reserve components in this global war on terror.
Extensive and repeat combat tours in the desert are doubly troubling. Our Guard and reserve forces recruit heavily from separating active duty members. Many military men and women choose to affiliate with the reserve components in their home locales when they complete their active duty commitments. They have the skills and the motivation to serve with the Guard and reserves. However, multiple combat tours in an initial active duty enlistment could stifle that motivation.
The active duty Air Force has a different and particularly interesting problem. Retention is superb. Air Force members are re-enlisting at a very high rate. Airmen are pleased with their contributions to the war on terror and staying with their units. In fact, the Air Force earlier in the year had set a recruiting goal of 37,000 enlistees for the fiscal year starting on Oct. 1. Because retention is so good, the Air Force has sliced 11,000 from that number and will recruit only 26,000. They are also offering separation incentives to current members in an effort to separate another 9,000 airmen. Some airmen in overage or non-critical career fields will not be permitted to re-enlist. In short, the USAF needs to reduce its total strength by about 20,000 before Sept. 30, 2005.
Likewise the U.S. Navy has too many members on active duty and plans to reduce its total numbers by nearly 10,000 over the next year.
The active duty Army has a different concern. The Army needs to add tens of thousands of new members to achieve an adequate strength to accommodate the many missions their nation is asking them to take on. Increasing the number of soldiers and reorganizing the Army combat structure will ultimately ease the burden on the Guard and reserve forces. But it will take time.
Military members recruited today need several years to become effective combat leaders in the respective services. As a consequence, the Army has initiated a "Blue to Green" program to recruit Air Force and Navy members who are separating from the "blue uniform" services. It will be somewhat speedier to take airmen and sailors with military skills, military bearing and a few years of military experience to move into the critical Non-Commissioned Officer ranks of our ground forces. It will also be less expensive.
Earlier this year I posted a journal column
(A Military Draft?)
discussing the potential for a return to a military draft in this country. I stated then the many reasons why a military draft was not in the cards. I am still convinced that a draft is neither desirable nor viable. I am also convinced it is not necessary. Your armed services, along with their Guard and reserve components, will work their way through the current recruiting concerns.
America's all volunteer military has been remarkably successful for more than 30 years. It will continue to be so.