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Defense Department Celebrates 35 Years of All-Volunteer Force

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2008 – On July 1, the nation will mark 35 years of an armed military made up solely of volunteers.

Until July 1973, the military operated under an involuntary draft policy to produce manpower to fight the country’s wars. Draftees served during both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Opposition to the war in Vietnam brought extreme scrutiny to the draft, and the public’s increasing dissatisfaction took its toll during President Richard Nixon’s administration. Congress eventually approved the institution of the all-volunteer force, and although the framework for selective service remained in place, the armed forces stopped drafting people to serve.

For the past 35 years, volunteers manned 100 percent of the armed forces during the nation’s times of need, including the Cold War as well as conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. They filled the ranks and fought in the Persian Gulf, Panama and Grenada.

Retention flourishes among the services – in both the active duty and reserve components – as they continue to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan and conduct humanitarian missions at home and throughout the world, a senior Defense Department official said.

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel and policy, said the nation and its armed forces are stronger in many ways, thanks most notably to the aptitude and experience today’s volunteers bring to the table. Carr said about 20 percent of servicemembers in the draft era were in the bottom third of the aptitude-test scoring range. Today, only 2 percent of the force is in the bottom third, and more than 66 percent are in the top half.

“One thing that characterizes today’s recruits is that they’re so smart relative to average,” he said. “Two-thirds are in the top half in math and verbal aptitude, and they can figure out what to do in ambiguous situations. You can see it in their performance, and they’re just a remarkable group of people.”

Experience is evident in today’s armed force’s retention statistics. Nearly one out of every two servicemembers re-enlists. During the draft, only one-eighth of the force re-enlisted, leaving an average of less than 20 percent with more than a few years of service, Carr said.

“Although, the [draft-era] force was valiant, they didn’t have the attributes of the all-volunteer force,” he said. “Frankly, today’s force is a lot more seasoned, experienced and smarter.”

For the first time, the all-volunteer military has been taken to war for a protracted period of time, he said. Considering the current endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carr reflected on performance and retention concerns senior leaders had expressed.

“There were concerns about how today’s fight would affect retention, and yet, retention has been as strong as any period in our history,” he said. “Volunteers want to serve; their performance is strong, their behaviors are strong, and their discipline is high.”

Their choice to become members of the armed forces “speaks volumes for the dedication and loyalty of our nation and its volunteers,” Carr added.

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Bill Carr


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