Thoughts on a draft

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?”

18 thoughts on “Thoughts on a draft”

  1. The Draft, am I going to say that I have all of the answers? NO! There are some strange things that I have seen revolving around the draft. I was in the Air Force and I received my draft notice. As you can imagine I got a real ration of —- because of this. It was all light hearted, nothing serious. But a friend of mine worked like a bear to get his “conscientious objector status on religious grounds.” They could no longer draft him. This was before I enlisted in the Air Force and they were still processing everything. He got his letter and it stated his new draft status. He took the letter and the next day, went to the Army Recruiter. He told him he wanted to be an Army Medic. The Army was required to use him ONLY as a medic, NO GAMES. He was a good medic and he spent the next 30 years in what turned out to be mutually beneficial relationship.

    The one thing you don’t hear discussed very much is the concept of getting married and having children to avoid the draft. I believe history proves, in many cases, this was a total disaster for all involved. Many times, parents were a part of the problem, not the solution.

    In my case, both of my parents have a long history in this area. Both families have served in all wars, including this one, since the Revolutionary War in various roles.

    As we look at this war, we need to remember we don’t need the old fashioned grunt of the Ernie Pyle view. We need the well trained troops we have now, but we need to get new blood into the system.

    V/R Grumpy

  2. A draft army is a slave army. Modern warfare is too complex, the decisions too important (even at the squad level) to bring back the draft.

    The draft was useful when massed armies met on the battlefield. Replacing the cannon fodder as fast as possible.

    Fewer soldiers are at the tip of the spear these days, modern firepower is so concentrated. For every soldier with two boots and a ruck there are seven who make his job possible.

    There are not enough drill sergeants or basic training bases to process them.
    Konx just lost the basic mission, Bliss will no longer be an AIT base after 2009.

    Recruiting in this economy can make up the shortfall. As long as the Democrats don’t monkey with our pay and benefits.

  3. They’ve already monkeyed with your pay. Instead of pegging the pay raise to CPI +.5%, they’ve pegged it at CPI-.%5. So that’s pretty much a percentage point of pay raise you won’t see. Not a cut, but a cut in the rate of increase. In the short term, it saves money and won’t hurt. But after a couple years, it will hurt badly.

    As to whether a draft army would work well, most of the concern I have would be ensuring that the selective service really was selective, choosing good draftees. Many jobs that currently are filled with long first enlistment soldiers would be challenging to fill with 2-year draftees. You’d probably see a lot of MOSs split to further specialize. It’s easier to train a short term soldier to do a very specific job than to have him be an apprentice for a field.
    I also believe that if we did go back to some form of the draft, the vast majority of people who stepped forward would do the best they could, even if they weren’t very happy about it.

  4. All the advantages that are often advanced for the AVF are true, but there are some downsides little talked about.

    First, the AVF concept can (and often does) lead to in-breeding and closed minds that don’t have to hear criticism from fresh voices and eyes. There is nothing like a cynical draftee Harvard graduate with a jaundiced eye to pick apart the slightest logical inconsistencies in long-accepted SOPs and bureaucratic methods–let alone battlefield tactics.

    Also, an AVF is a high cost operation where an inordinate amt of $ goes for pay and allowances and housing instead of wps acquisition.

    Yet another unfortunate result is that we often get the worst of both worlds when casualties
    are treated by critics of the military and our foreign policy as if they were experienced by poor, innocent young things forcibly ripped from their mother’s arms and dragged kicking and screaming into the service. Thus we get much of the PR disadvantage of a draftee service in terms of casualty-shy public aversion to losses as if people were being forced to go against their will, while at the same time incurring the financial drag of the assoc. high maint. costs/recruit of an AVF.

    All the above is not to pour cold water on the AVF concept–but it is to say that it does come with some very real downsides as well.

  5. PS__And I might say that the AVF concept is not a total one. The dirty little secret is that it is being “proved” upon the backs of the enlisted. While officer’s
    pay fairly closely has been upgraded to be competitive with the civilian world, P&A for enlisted troops is still based largely on the old single troop in open-bay barracks era Army of years ago–which is why so many married enlisted qualify for food stamps. If the bill to upgrade P&A for the enlisted
    ranks commensurate with the equivalent of what was done for the officers–Congress would collectively pass out–either that or we would have a well-paid AV armed services with no equipment for the same money.

  6. The high cost in the military is not weapons, but personnel. Military spouses get treatment for free at base clinics and hospitals or TRICARE pays for civilian hospitals. Male spouses can sit at home if they wish. Many officer’s husbands to just that as stay at home dads. The DOD lost a court case back in the 80’s so now all spouses are treated the same. My spouse has a disability, civilian insurance companies may not cover her but the government has to.

    Training, it costs $1 million to turn your 19-24 year old, unspanked Momma’s little angel into a 14E or 14J. That is just the cost of the simulators, computers and systems that get to train on. And *we* never fire live missiles in training (execpt in 2008). Armor, field artillery and other combat arms have huge costs when they train.

    Now add the costs of trainee’s food, housing, and non-MOS training. Computers can only do so much. We have to get out and train as we fight.

    While supply, mechanic and fuel handler are short AIT’s other can take much longer. 68W EDO and 94S school take a year to finish. Then they are sent to the unit. Many schools are not even doing driver’s training, sending that to units as well. (I know, armor must license their students, but many soldiers from all MOS’s are arriving that have never driven a HMMWV at all).

    The Army is on a quest to get rid of MOS’s as systems are withdrawn and career fields shrink. Several logistic fields have been combined (wheel mech with tracked mech for instance). For new systems, they are using existing MOS’s and giving the solders a skill i.d. afterward.

    No a draft is a soup sandwich. Weapons systems are too complex for solders with a career lifespan of 2 years. It takes at least 2 years just to get proficient at the E-4 level. The myth of just picking up a weapons and knowing how to work it is a Hollywood fantasy. Maintenance is a bear and that *really* takes time to get good at. No chief is going to want a soldier who will be gone in about a year.

    About the pay. virgil, you are %100 right. Many people in and out of uniform just assume that E-4 and below are single and are shocked when they meet privates with kids (some with grandkids).

  7. Nearly all America’s wars have been fought with a draftee army to some degree. The major exceptions would be of course the Revolution and those short and sweet wars (Mex-American, SpanAm). World War II is often upheld as the best example of the American draft-based army, and last time I checked, the Army did fairly well in that contest.

    I don’t buy into the bit that warfighting is somehow TOO technical now for civilians to don the green. That very issue was the great strength of the US draft army in WW II. We often think of things in terms of that “Tactical to Practical” stuff. But the converse is just as true, if not more so.

    In WW II, consider the percentages of G.I.s who knew how to fix a Jeep engine. And then consider how many Germans, Italians, Brits, Russians, or Japanese soldiers entered service with the same skill set. The disparity became worse when the truly technical fields are studied. How many American conscripts already had some understanding of radio, for instance. And how fast was that basic knowledge translated into skills pertaining to warfighting of the time – radar, radio direction finding, etc. The U.S. was well beyond the other nations when it came to practical application of technology to warfare (even if we were behind in some regards with regard to developing the technology!).

    I’d contend that the technical skills needed to fight a modern war includes an ever growing array of highly technical skill sets that NO AVF can ever master. Instead, the Army turns to contractors to fill the voids. For example, how many communications networks today in theater are 100% built, maintained, and operated by military personnel? None. How many rely on civilian contractors – all. A draft army would turn those contract positions into uniformed personnel. Draftees with years of experience in technical fields would then be taught to soldier. (but that’s another story…)

    However, the lesson learned from Vietnam is that draftee armies don’t work function when a sizable element of the population is against the war/draft. Given the current climate, a draft would probably spark an open revolt….

  8. The left is anxious to re-establish the draft because it allows the Army to portrayed as the victim of the elite leadership cabals of the right.
    A drafted army is less deployable to low intensity conflicts because they will lack the elan needed to absorb provocative assaults without resorting to undisciplined vengeance. According to Alastair Horne “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962” the French had this problem in Algeria. FFL and Colonial units were able to go into the field and discover mutilated comrades without loss of discipline. Draftee regiments deployed to Algeria either began to retaliate against the population with little discrimination between civilians and revolutionaries, or after exposure to such became excessively timid in the field and laagered without really patrolling.

  9. Caswain,
    While I agree with your premise concerning WWII. The current crop of youth leaves much to be desired. Their lack of ability to do much more than play video games being legendary.
    I realize that is a broad generalization, however I have a lot of anecdotal stories to tell.

  10. The current classes I left saw 5 re-class from 68W school, two who were holdovers and 2 medical washouts from 11B school. Then there were the 4 of us transitioning MOS.

    Of the AIT kids: 1 awol, 2 chapter, 2 underage drinking with field grade article-15’s, 3 med hold (they eventually reached their units) and lots and lots of corrective training.

    One transition got an article-15 for something stupid and is now a PV2 (and got sh&^t for it from the rest of us in the transition platoon).

    That is people who CHOSE to come into the army. A draft with just make it 10x worse. Again, I ask were are you going to get the drills and the space for all those draftees? With the army leaving Europe, Bais is down to 4 bases (Sill, Benning, Jackson and Lenardwood).

  11. Nice work Brad and lots of interesting commentary too.

    It’s my view a draft is only beneficial when the need for cheap labour in the military outweighs the drawbacks. And some of those drawbacks are severe. That drawback of the “poor, innocent young things forcibly ripped from their mother’s arms and dragged kicking and screaming into the service” point of view cost little at the time but is still costing the military to this day. The point about the link of drafting and civilian war support is very important too.

    I am not so certain about the training etc needs making it in the too hard basket for draftees. The military, indeed any institution, needs to keep training focused, relevant and fast. Sometimes the presence of new blood shows when training is deficient which might really mean the items are unnecessarily complex or badly designed, for example.

    The final point I want to make is that US citizens like yourselves might not see that the US is actually relatively patriotic with a strong civil service ethic compared to many nations. It makes volunteering and even drafting a much easier proposition so you should worry far less about personnel shortfalls in the army than some nations should.

  12. Lots of very interesting comments.

    I just want to add the civil-military issue to the mix. As we have gone away from a mass-mob military model (and cranked up BRAC) we have greatly reduced the profile of the military in our society. I live in San Diego and we have lots of military around here. We are the exception compared to a lot of the country. That means that a lot of people (citizens, even voters) don’t have much first hand experience with the military and the people in it.

    I don’t know if this leads to over- or under-use of the military, but I am sure it is not good for a democracy.

  13. Andrew this is more or less how it works over here. er in Australia I mean. Our military has an extremely low profile and has worked it that way for a long time so the divide here between civil and military is quite strong. The practical implications *seem* to be and I do stress seem because I an civil and not in the Aust. military loop;

    Poor recruitment, partly from low awareness, partly from negative perceptions that aren’t corrected.

    Easier for government to do things like conduct the Iraq war. The disconnect means instead of positive or negative impact there is more of a don’t care attitude.

    Poor military support, the don’t care means there’s little clout to do something about it when Government rips off soldiers.

  14. here is nothing like a cynical draftee Harvard graduate with a jaundiced eye to pick apart the slightest logical inconsistencies in long-accepted SOPs and bureaucratic methods–let alone battlefield tactics.

    From my reasonably extensive experience with Harvard graduates, I think you’re being hugely optimistic.

  15. geoff, he’s actually channeling the late Col. David Hackworth there, who thought a wee bit of cynicism wasn’t all bad. After all, you’ll hear things from people with no career ambitions that others won’t tell you.

  16. ho thought a wee bit of cynicism wasn’t all bad.

    A wee bit, perhaps, but your typical Harvard grad is all uninformed cynicism, all the time, and is focused on criticizing, not improving, the military. The bottom line is that the price you pay is far in excess of the little benefit you’ll realize.

    But then again, Harvard guys used to steal all the girls back when I was in college, so maybe I’m a little biased.

  17. Yes. My recruiter didn’t lie to me.
    The best part of the 20 years was under Reagan.
    That is all.

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