Small Wars Journal

Starbuck Threefer

Crispin Burke, Wings over Iraq, has a three part series posted at the Swiss blog entitled "America's All-Volunteer Force: The Right Choice, Despite Stress of Two Wars". Part One can be found here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

BLUF: "In recent weeks, many American writers, such as former Washington Post correspondent Tom Ricks, have advocated some form of national service program, whether military, or a combination of military and civil service. While a national service program is beyond the scope of this document, it's safe to say that America's All-Volunteer Force serves the US best, based on America's social, political, strategic, and military policy. Though the All-Volunteer Force is not without significant flaws, it's the best choice for the United States. Nevertheless, we would be wise to take notes of the limitations of such a force. It's a smaller military, and can be prone to overstretch. It also requires a significant investiture of money and time to grow a well-trained force. Finally, and most importantly, an All-Volunteer Force is often "out of sight and out of mind" for many Americans. Taking steps to rectify this particular issue won't be easy. But it's safe to say that a draft isn't the proper way about it. For now, America's All-Volunteer Force, despite drawbacks and the stress of two wars, is the right force for America's defense."


Of course don't forget to mention that with this all volunteer force, there is close to a quarter million contractors from around the world all working hard to support this 'all volunteer' force.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 12/22/2010 - 8:38am

And your point is............

Steve (not verified)

Wed, 12/22/2010 - 11:35am

And don't forget that the volunteer force is the historical norm for America. All the "problems" that get mentioned existed before the draft era. The Army has been overstretched before (try the Indian Wars for just one example), and it will most likely happen again. They have been "out of sight, out of mind" before, and it will happen again. Given the nature of our system, that's the natural order of things. We've also relied on contractors before to conduct many aspects of our operations (again, see the Indian Wars for examples).

Old Eagle

Wed, 12/22/2010 - 1:42pm

This is a very well written set of articles. I tend to agree with his analysis, BUT

Yeah, I know, big BUT.

Show me the numbers. Especially the guys who advocate a return to the draft/universal national service. Paul Yingling's article is well reasoned, but takes only a qualitative analytical approach. Tom Ricks is another big hand wave over the little map, which he is lately famous for. (For which he is lately famous.)

I have not seen hard figures on the draft/professional force since the run up to ending the draft in the early 70s. Somebody build me a draft model and cost it out. I'll even toss you a bone and let you set the social opportunity costs to zero if you do all the others.

If Starbuck is right in that there a 4 million youth in the annual draft cohort, and we return to a 2 year draft, how many of that 8 million are actually under arms? Do you immediately exempt women from draft? What is the training base? What is the post-BRAC stationing plan? What are the pay scales? Is there a difference between RA and others? What are the duty assignments (all MOSs, only lower ASVAB MOSs)? What are the benefits packages? If you draft a married guy, what do you provide his/her family? If you draft only singles, what is the impact? If you draft only a portion of the population, what the plan to keep it "fair"? What are the administration costs? If your annual cost savings in pay/benefits are less than the increased costs of training and administration, how do you deal with the cash loss? Those are factors just off the top of my head. Hopefully, there's an excellent study already out there at an FFRDC, but I haven't seen it.

Having up close and personal experience with the draft Army, but deferring to Ken and some of the other graybeards, I find that many depictions of the draft Army are highly romanticized. But that's another topic.

Ken White (not verified)

Wed, 12/22/2010 - 6:27pm

In Re: <b>Old Eagle</b>:

Your final statement:<blockquote>"I find that many depictions of the draft Army are highly romanticized. But that's another topic."</blockquote>is possibly slightly incorrect. I'm not at all sure it's another topic. I am quite sure the depictions and ideas are not only romanticized but flatly delusional...

Your points in paragraphs 2-4 above are right on target.

Paul Yingling

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 4:51am

First and foremost, kudos to Starbuck for a nuanced and intellectually rigorous defense of the all-volunteeer force. Although I disagree with his conclusions, I appreciate a well constructed argument when I read one.

I'd like to make two related comments on quantitative issues. The first concerns the representativeness of the armed forces. Starbuck refers to a Heritage Foundation report showing that "nearly a quarter of new recruits came from the wealthiest twenty percent of communities." DoD also defends the representativeness of the armed forces by parsing incomes into quintiles. However, as I point out in "The Founders Wisdom," this method is a statistical gimmick that masks the absence of elites from Americas military. The wealthiest 1 percent of American hold 38 percent of our countrys wealth; the wealthiest 10% hold 70%. However, DoD does not track the degree to which these most-privileged Americans serve in our armed forces. Instead, DoD and other defenders of the AVF group incomes into quintiles, lumping together middle-class families with multi-billionaires. DoD could track the representation of the top 1% of income earners as easily as it tracks the top 20%, but refuses to do so.

The second comment refers to Old Eagles request to "show me the numbers." The Washington Post did a nice, short piece yesterday that lays out the numbers very clearly. Of the four million Americans who turn 18 each year, 75 percent are ineligible for military service because they are unfit, have criminal records or are high school dropouts. (Well leave aside waivers granted for high school dropouts for another day.) Of those 1 million eligible to enlist, nearly one-fourth fail the basic entrance exam. Even with relatively low standards for enlistment, the US has just over 750,000 potential recruits each year.

While our current wars require large ground forces and highly intelligent troops, the AVF limits both the quality and the quantity of recruits. Conscription could solve both problems. The alternative is the status quo - laying the heavy burdens of war on too few shoulders, jeopardizing our prospects for victory and irreparably harming thousands of soldiers, Marines and their families.

Old Eagle

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 11:44am


I like your original article and agree with a lot of what you wrote. I saw the Post article as well and it does address a tiny portion of the issue very well.

My rec is that you have the Arroyo Center or similar develop a force structure, basing plan, training plan, selection plan and cost it out.

Whereas your prescription spreads the burden in the socio-economic dimension, it appears to reward the fat, stupid, degenerate portion of the draft age cohort.

Like some of the others here, I rode the Army performance curve from the dark days of Vietnam, through the even darker days of VOLAR, to the peak of the all recruited force. There is no comparison of the quality of those forces. After Max Thurman started giving us quality recruits, life in troop units was actually enjoyable.