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July Marks 40th Anniversary of All-volunteer Army

By Alex Dixon
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2013 – When newly elected President Richard M. Nixon directed the Department of Defense to create an all-volunteer force, Army leaders knew there would be some hurdles.

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Today’s Army enlists only those who voluntarily choose to enter into military service. That has not always been the case. In 1973, the U.S. military implemented the all-volunteer force that replaced the conscription system used previously. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Instead of drafting young men to fill the ranks, the Army and the other armed services would need to spend money to ramp up recruiting efforts and portray military service as an attractive career choice.

By July 1, 1973 -- now 40 years ago -- the draft had been eliminated. But the Army started working on developing the all-volunteer force well before that.

In April 1971, Project VOLAR, for "volunteer Army," was implemented at select Army posts across the country. The project was an experiment designed to increase retention rates and morale among soldiers and attract those who would want to serve.

Army Sgt. Maj. Ray Moran, now retired, was assigned to the 1st Recruiting Brigade under VOLAR in 1971, at Fort Meade, Md., and said VOLAR brought about changes to life at the post.

Comfortable furniture soon filled the open-bay barracks, which were divided into sleeping rooms. Beer, once prohibited, became a popular beverage. And grooming standards relaxed. But Army leaders soon realized some changes caused more problems than they solved, and new initiatives began that focused on instilling professionalism and building pride for the Army.

Moran said he thinks the all-volunteer force initiative has proven a success -- and he was proud to have been part of it.

"We built a volunteer Army that really proved itself in Desert Storm," Moran said in a 2011 interview. "They were just a marvelous bunch of soldiers, and they have done it right through to Iraq and Afghanistan today. We are very proud of the all-volunteer Army."

Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands, director of military personnel management, Army G-1, has served in the Army for 32 years now. As he grew up on a military post, he saw how the services transitioned from the draft to the all-volunteer force.

Now 40 years after the transition, Seamands says he continues to see the Army improve as a result of the all-volunteer force.

"Everybody in the Army wants to be in the Army," Seamands said. "Everyone's volunteered to come in and be a part of something bigger than themselves."

Seamands says the all-volunteer force creates a longer term of service, allowing for more complex training and cohesion-building for units.

Under the draft system, draftees usually served for two years. Now, soldiers enlist to serve for up to five years.

Only 20 percent of Americans are qualified to be in the Army under standards of health, behavior and intelligence. Seamands said recruiting still remains a challenge.

"We are very selective because we know what's at stake," he said. "What's at stake is having a professional force that's capable of fighting and winning our nation's battles."

During and following the Vietnam War, public trust in the Army was at an all-time low, Seamands said. Significant numbers of draftees didn't want to serve and faced hostile environments when they returned home.

Seamands said the transition to the all-volunteer force changed the national dialogue about the Army.

"Americans have a lot to be proud of and one of them is the all-volunteer force," Seamands said. "It's unprecedented. And now, the American people realize the national treasure we have in our sons and daughters serving in uniform."

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