Saving the All-Volunteer Force
The U.S. Armed Forces' desired
end strength, especially that of the Army, has become a subject
of major concern. Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and
other deployments have heightened military manpower demands, and
great apprehension exists that Reserve Components (RCs) especially
are experiencing severe recruitment and reenlistment problems.
The most practical way of alleviating shortfalls
and excessive reliance on RCs is to introduce a short-enlistment
option targeted at college students and recent college graduates.
The enlistment option would require 15 months of active duty. Such
15-month enlistees could perform many of the roles RCs and some
active-duty personnel now perform.
A definite, albeit limited, market exists of
college graduates who might volunteer for military service if the
active-duty commitment is only 15 months and comes with generous
educational benefits. During fall 2002, the enlistment propensities
of undergraduates were assessed in surveys conducted at Northwestern
University at Chicago, and the Universities of Arizona, California
at Los Angeles, and Illinois at Chicago. Northwestern University
completed a similar survey in October 2004. These were the first
and only surveys on enlistment propensity ever conducted on university
Educational benefits ranged from $60,000 for
a 4-year enlistment to $15,000 for a 15-month enlistment. Across
all universities, shorter terms had a notably positive effect on
enlistment propensity. Twenty-three percent of those participating
in the survey indicated an enlistment propensity for the 15- month
option (with $15,000 in educational benefits), but only 2 percent
were inclined to favor the 4-year option (with $60,000 in educational
The October 2004 survey at Northwestern even
asked if students would consider serving as prison guards in places
like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo if their student loans were forgiven
and they received G.I. Bill benefits for graduate school. Eleven
percent said that such service would be a "very likely"
option; another 18 percent said they would "consider"
such an option.
Two-thirds of American high-school graduates
now go on to some form of higher education. Of these, about half
will graduate with a bachelor's degree. Each year, 1.2 million young
people graduate with a bachelor's degree, yet military recruitment
of college graduates at the enlisted level is minuscule.
The average college graduate today leaves with
about $19,000 in debt. Forty percent of college graduates state
they intend to go on to some form of graduate study. A higher percentage
of youth now go on to graduate school than went to undergraduate
schools during the post-World War II years of the original G.I.
Bill. The average debt of a student who attends graduate school
Few students at the more selective universities
had close relatives or friends who served in the military. No correlation
exists between enlistment propensity and military knowledge. (Half
of the students did not know a colonel had a higher rank than a
major.) No correlation exists between political values and enlistment
propensity. Liberals and conservatives have the same propensity-low
for both-to volunteer for the Armed Forces.
Arguments Against a 15-Month Enlistment
Opponents of the short-enlistment option raise
three arguments against it. The first asserts that "short enlistments
would increase demands on the training base." Let us remember
that almost onethird of those now entering military service fail
to complete their initial enlistments. Soldiers signing up for long
(4- to 6-year) enlistments have attrition rates 1-1/2 times greater
than those who enlist for 2 years. Completing an enlistment term
strongly correlates with higher education; it is much better to
have a soldier serve 15 months honorably than be discharged prematurely.
A 15-month enlistment option would reduce personnel turnover and
counter shortfalls in end strength.
The second argument opponents of short enlistments
put forth is that "today's military requires highly technical
skills that cannot be met by shorttermers." Precisely. The
Armed Forces should offer higher compensation to those whose skills
require extended training and experience. In the draft era, the
pay ratio between a senior noncommissioned officer and a private
was 6 to 1; today it is less then 3 to 1. The military should give
future pay raises to its career soldiers.
Fifteen-month enlistees could fill jobs that
would require only a short formal training period or even only on-the-job
training. For example, a major morale problem among Reservists is
pulling guard duty at installations. Guard duty would be an appropriate
task for a short-term enlistee.
The total length of training for military police
officers-from the time they enter service to completion of training-is
14 weeks. The short-term enlistee would be ideally suited for duties
in peacekeeping missions such as in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Sinai.
Surveys show such missions are the most appealing to college students.
Indeed, short-enlistment soldiers are especially well suited to
those military occupational specialties now experiencing recruitment
shortfalls and excessive reliance on RCs. Also well documented is
that recruits who have higher educations have markedly lower attrition
rates and the skills and motivation to quickly learn a wide variety
of military jobs.
The third argument commonly advanced against
short-term enlistment asserts that "a short-enlistment option
would attract soldiers who otherwise would sign up for a longer
enlistment." Quite the contrary. A 15-month enlistment accompanied
by educational benefits would attract college students and graduates
who never would have considered entering the Armed Forces. The short-term
option could capitalize on the fact that there is a dual market
in recruitment. One group would volunteer for military service based
on salary, skill training, and career benefits; the other, to obtain
a paid, temporary break between college and graduate studies or
between school and a career. Recruiting only 10 percent of college
graduates would end recruitment woes.
The United States should-
-Consider a cohort enlistment for certain colleges
to recruit enlistees to serve in specified peacekeeping missions.
-Emphasize military service as a rewarding
experience between undergraduate and graduate school or between
school and career.
-Use single-term veterans as part-time recruiters.
-Consider linking federal aid for higher education
to some form of national service. (Under the present system, through
federal grants and loan subsidies, the government now pays students
not to serve their country. We now have a G.I. Bill without the
-Establish a commission to look at military
recruitment, Homeland Security needs, civilian national service,
and federal student aid.
Without attracting significant numbers of college
graduates, military recruitment will most likely experience a lowering
of entrance standards; higher entry pay and larger enlistment bonuses;
an expanded recruitment force; increased contracting-out of military
functions; and more recruitment of non-American citizens.
We should also keep in mind the long-term benefits
for the country if military service becomes more common among privileged
youth. We will have future civilian leaders who have had a rewarding
military experience and who might be future part-time recruiters,
which can only be to the advantage of the Armed Forces and the Nation.
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