It isn’t often I turn to a guy wearing a Batman suit for inspiration for posts here:
FYI, Richard Nixon is a hero to me. When I was in college, my lottery number was 13 and my Selective Service classification was 1-A. I expected to be drafted upon graduation when my student deferment expired — meaning, I was bound for Vietnam. This was not something I really wanted to do, being recently married, and after having served my country with rigorous duties in a Boy Scout marching band.
But, by the time I graduated, the war was over, and the draft was over, following the Paris Peace Talks. All this happened on Nixon’s watch.
Of course, after the Paris Peace Talks, the ARVN collapsed and South Vietnam became a communist dictatorship. So maybe I should have been drafted. I’m conflicted about this 35 years later.
I wanted to talk about this a bit. As someone who has enlisted voluntarily (twice!) from civilian life, and as a former recruiter for the all volunteer force, I fully support the AVF. The transition to the AVF after the Vietnam war was a very rocky one, with the service having severe trouble just finding enough people to join, let alone finding quality people. In the late 70’s, drug use was rampant, racial tensions high, unit readiness was in the toilet, and discipline was so bad, officers were sometimes fearful for their own safety should they visit the enlisted barracks. That’s no way to run an army. Much of this was a result of the antipathy much of society had for the Army after Vietnam. An even larger cause was the fact that Army pay was pitiful.
The Reagan buildup is often seen in terms of hardware. Oddly enough, most of those systems were actually developed and procurement began during the Ford and Carter years. Where Reagan really made an impact was in the personnel sphere. He boosted pay by a huge margin, making life for servicemembers if not comfortable, at least tolerable. And the Army itself took some hard steps. Random, universal urinalysis testing for all hands helped put a dent in drug use. When the Army made the decision that it would rather be shorthanded with good people than fully staffed with bad people, something else happened. People who previously would have walked away at the end of their enlistments started sticking around. Soldiering is a hell of a lot more fun when you aren’t spending all your time dealing with a bunch of hopped up druggies. Improving the facilities soldiers lived in helped a lot as well.
The other Reagan helped solve by throwing money at it was training. The Army put an awful lot of intellectual capital into deciding how to train. But it took a ton of money to put that into practice. And in the 80’s, there was finally enough money for fuel, ammo, spare parts and training aids to get out and train forces to a fare-thee-well. The results of this payed off handsomely, as seen in Desert Storm.
Even now, with our Army fighting two wars and supporting untold numbers of other operations globally; with soldiers deployed from home at rates that were utterly unthinkable when I served; in the midst of what was until recently an economy with an extremely tight labor market, we are still able to recruit a force of a quality that even Reagan era leaders could only dream of. For years, we’ve seen doomsday articles about how the Army is broken or soon will be. Yet enlistments are still keeping pace, even as we seek to raise the endstrength of the Army, and reenlistments are at historical highs. This isn’t to deny the challenges that the Army faces, but it’s a little early to claim the sky is falling.
To say that the All Volunteer Force has been a success is a bit of an understatement.
But what about the Draft Army of the Vietnam era? When I say I don’t want a draftee Army, let me be clear that in no way am I trying to minimize the magnificent service millions of Americans provided, at not only great inconvienence to themselves and their families, but at great personal risk. When their country called, they answered. Some stayed in the Army. But the vast majority did their duty to the best of their ability, went home, and picked up their lives where they had been interrupted. I’ve known folks who were drafted and never forgave the Army for that. I’ve known others who were drafted and thought it was a great experience. But mostly I’ve known people that were drafted, did their service and left that behind them. As to folks who were elegible for the draft yet received deferments? I can’t say I blame them. Provided they used no chicanery to avoid service, they did nothing wrong, and have no reason not to hold their honor as intact. The question only they can answer is, “If your country had called you to serve, would you?”