June 1, 2010  

Letters: Manpower policy

Curtis Gilroy’s response to Lt. Col. Paul Yingling’s article “The founder’s wisdom” presents a strong, factual defense of an all-volunteer military [April]. Unfortunately, Yingling persists in clouding the manpower policy issues in his rejoinder to Gilroy. Let me offer a few responses to the questions raised by Yingling in AFJ.

1. Only 5 percent of American incomes are above $160,000, and fewer than 1.5 percent are above $250,000. Does Yingling propose tracking military participation in these very small segments of the population? According to Forbes, there are fewer than 200 “multibillionaires” in the U.S. Should we track participation from their families too? Implicit in Yingling’s argument is an insinuation that the children of America’s wealthiest serve at disproportionately low rates. What is the evidence for this? In fact, there are many men and women serving (and sacrificing in overseas deployments) whose parents are among America’s economic, political and military elite. To suggest otherwise without evidence is scurrilous.

2. The reason that the Army has not been able to meet its goal of two years of “dwell time” between deployments is because “demand” for forces from combatant commanders has exceeded the “supply” available from the services, particularly the Army. Combatant commanders’ projections of how many forces (and of what types) would be needed to support the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been lower than actual requirements time after time. As it takes most of a year (and for special skills, much longer) to get a recruit ready to deploy, the Army force supply has consistently lagged behind demand. The Army has continued to “surge” to meet growing demand, reducing time for rest and reset. With recently authorized increases in end strength, the Army is beginning to increase dwell time and restore the balance of the force.

3. Army enlisted recruiting has been focused on a small group of highly qualified youth since the early 1990s. Finding recruits who meet these criteria (with few exceptions, they are high school graduates with good test scores, physically fit and of good character) isn’t easy. Accessions Command believes that fewer than 30 percent of American youth ages 18-24 meet its standards. However, with good pay and benefits, great career opportunities and American enthusiasm for service, the supply of new recruits has been strong throughout the current conflicts. Why would we make the standards more restrictive, and how is that idea compatible with the generally lower qualifications of the broader population that would be subjected to the draft?

4. All the analysis I’m familiar with suggests that a conscripted force is less qualified and more expensive than a volunteer force for equivalent numbers of boots on the ground. This is because the conscripted enlistments are short and, with a conscripted force, it is more difficult to attract, train and retain the highly skilled military personnel needed for the modern battlefield. While wages and fringe benefits for an all-volunteer force are expensive, an all-volunteer force is more efficient than a conscripted force over the long term.

5. I agree that it is irresponsible for the government to make unfinanced commitments, whether for war or domestic programs.

Our founding fathers were strongly opposed to a standing Army and did everything in their power to disband the Army after peace was concluded with England. However, the settlers on the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiers demanded security from the federal government and soon there were permanent garrisons in a number of forts in the Ohio Valley.

For more than 230 years, the Army has responded to the nation’s requests for assistance, whether those needs stemmed from external or internal threats. The Army continues to respond today with soldiers (including Yingling) stationed in 80 countries in support of vital American interests. We can disagree about what those interests are and, indeed, that is what we sort out through the electoral process. But we shouldn’t confuse the strong analytic case for an all-volunteer force with the short-term struggle to supply sufficient forces to meet the demand of a particular policy.

— Nelson M. Ford, former undersecretary of the Army, McLean, Va.