Guide Note : I wrote the following article in August of 1999. At the time, Congress had cut and was capping military pay and benefits, and the services were not meeting their recruiting goals. For the previous nine years, the Clinton and Bush (senior) administrations had been deploying our troops to more locations than our down-sized military could handle.
In my opinion, at the time, the only way we could meet our recruiting and retention goals was to either impose a draft, or dramatically increase military pay and benefits. I'm happy to say that Congress took note, and chose the second path. All of our services have met their recruiting and retention goals for the past four years. While our military is still stretched too thin, Congress has taken steps to increase the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps by several thousand troops over the next few years. All indications are that there will be little problem attracting these recruits through voluntary enlistment incentives.
I had given serious thought to deleting this article, as I no longer believe a military draft is very likely (see Are You Going to be Drafted?). However, I decided to keep the article on the site, as a warning of what could happen if Congress ever decides again that our military personnel are being paid too much, and/or military benefits are too generous.
In the hallowed halls of Congress, you can barely hear the word whispered. In the sacred chambers of the Senate, it's possible to overhear the word in casual, serious, yet quiet, conversation. In the rowdiness of the G.I. bull-session, you can hear the word tossed about in half-joking banter. In VFW clubs across the World, you'll hear it emotionally debated. In military newspapers, you can see the word now and then in a "Letter to the Editor."
What's significant is that after 26 years of obscurity, the word, "draft" has resurfaced to be seriously discussed as a possible necessity in the next couple of years.
Will the United States of America ever resort to a draft other than in event of an actual attack on the Nation? No? What if it was the only way possible to maintain the World's most effective fighting force? What if we increased military pay, and it still didn't work? Here are the facts. You'll have to decide the outcome for yourself.
Between 1940 and 1973, in both peacetime and war, the draft was the norm for this country. Through good and bad, selective service had one clearly positive result for the security of the U.S.: It insured an adequate fighting force for the defense of the nation at a very minimal cost. Both rich and poor alike were inducted, and -- as their basic clothing, food, and shelter needs were taken care of, it was not necessary to pay them an equitable pay rate, nor was it necessary to provide an abundance of benefits (such were limited to the relatively few "career" soldiers).
On June 30, 1973, The United States -- sick over Vietnam and the involuntary service that the War had mandated upon our people -- launched the "All-Volunteer Force." The concept was simple, yet bold: Establish a quality career force of volunteers, and increase pay and benefits to be competitive with the civilian sector. Proving the nay-sayers wrong, for the first 20 or so years, the system worked, and worked well. The services were able to dramatically increase their enlistment and retention standards and still obtain needed recruits, as well as a highly selective quality force for reenlistment. In fact, there was a period of time in the late 80s where more recruits were being turned away at the doors to the recruiter's office then were being signed up. A high school diploma was a mandatory minimum -- GEDs need not apply.
The Vietnam-era G.I. Bill went through a transition to ultimately become today's "Montgomery G.I. Bill," which requires a monetary contribution of the service member, and pays for barely 1/3 of standard tuition costs. Free medical care for family members and retirees were eliminated. Commissary and Base Exchange prices were raised so that their civilian counterparts could remain "competitive." The retirement system, the backbone of the All Volunteer Force, was dramatically changed, requiring a retiree to reach the age of 62 before drawing full benefits. Active duty pay was capped -- by law -- to raises at least 1/2 of a percentage point below the Consumer Price Index, resulting in less and less buying power for each year that went by.