Ironically, the outstanding success of the Gulf War may be a significant factor in our retention problems of today. The war was too easy, and made the Bush administration look very, very good. Capitalizing on the success of that particular deployment, the Bush and Clinton administrations have since combat-deployed Untied States forces to 37 overseas locations in support of United States foreign policy objectives, including the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. This is more than triple the number of combat deployments conducted between the end of W.W.II and the end of the Cold War. In effect, the workload and tasking on the military has increased by a factor of three and the manpower to perform the work has been cut in half.
The United States is losing its tradition of the citizen-soldier. Only 10 percent of all Americans have served in uniform. Only 35 percent of Congress have served in the military --down from 70 percent just 15 years ago. The current Commander in Chief and Secretary of Defense not only didn't serve, but went out of their way to avoid military service during Vietnam. It's no longer "cool" to be a patriot. It's not "in" to die or risk your life for your country. The average high school senior sees the dirty, tired, soldier, living in a tent in Kosovo or Bosnia on CNN, and says, "Yech. Why would I want to live like that?" (The few exceptions, I believe, are attracted to our "toughest" force, the Marine Corps, which may explain why the Marines, out of all of the services, is the only one close to making its recruiting goals).
In my opinion, Congress made its biggest mistake ever, when it cut benefits from veterans and retirees. Last week a large group of veterans even went to Federal Court to demand that the Government make good on recruitment "promises" of free medical care for life. The court ruled against them, in effect, saying that Congress can make up and change the rules anytime they see fit. However, in reneging on their promises, Congress has lost their greatest military recruitment tool of all -- the invisible recruiter. We all know him as Uncle Bob, or Dad, or that Jimmy-guy down the road. These were the retirees and veterans of the past who talked to the young about their service days and retirement in glorious terms, with tales of adventure and romance, and friends for life, and security and happiness after service. They unconsciously "sold" the military to thousands of young men and women, as a place to get a start, a place to grow up, a place to get an education, a place to travel, etc. Now, these millions of invisible recruiters are silent, and in some cases, are actively counseling their young acquaintances not to enlist -- not to trust the Government who had so casually broken promises to the recruits of the past. This is a national tragedy, and it will take much to get these unsung heroes back onto the side of the recruiters.
The average Navy person now spends about nine months out of every year at sea. The average airman spends about seven months out of every year deployed. Ditto for the Army and Marines. When not deployed, in order to keep up with homebase training and workload demands, 16 hour workdays, 6 days per week, are not uncommon. Such a life is takes its toll, and folks are getting out at an alarming rate, which, of course, requires recruitment goals to be increased. As the services lose more and more experienced personnel, more work is shoved onto the shoulders of the ones who remain behind, and the situation gets worse every day.
The Army has a total authorized force of 530,500. It needs 80,000 to 90,000 new soldiers per year. Even though they have dramatically reduced their enlistment standards, accepting non-highschool-graduates, and some with criminal records, they are still facing a shortage of 10,000 this year. The Navy has a total force authorization of 400,000. They need about 60,000 new sailors per year, and is facing a shortage of 22,000 so far. The Air Force has an active duty force strength of 385,000, and requires about 33,800 new airman this year. So far, they predict a shortfall of 11,000. The Marine Corps is the only service who is not predicting a shortfall. They have an authorized active duty strength of 174,000 and need about 41,000 new recruits this year.