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All-Volunteer Force: Proven Quantity in the Persian Gulf War and Beyond

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2003 – The all-volunteer force took nearly a generation to come to fruition, but has since proved its worth in combat.

Thirty years after then-Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird established the all- volunteer force, some politicians are again calling for resumption of a military draft. Defense leaders are crying foul; they don't want it, and they don't need it.

A senior defense official today briefed media in the Pentagon on the advantages and history of the all-volunteer military force.

"There was no military in the world at that time of comparable size that operated on a volunteer basis," the official said. He noted that Great Britain had a volunteer military, but it was nowhere near as large in either absolute numbers or in percentage of population as what the United States was attempting.

The force took 10 to 15 years to come to fruition, and it wasn't proven in combat until the Persian Gulf War of the early 1990s.

"I would argue that the fine performance of our forces in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the fine performance you've seen in a variety of crises in the last 10 years, including operations in Afghanistan this last year and continued operations in the greater Southwest Asia region, indeed reflect the excellence of that force," the official said.

This official debunked the notion that the all-volunteer force would lead to a higher percentage of African-Americans and other minorities being killed in a war. He said blacks comprise only a slightly higher percentage of enlistees than found in a comparable age group in the general population - 21 percent of military service members versus roughly 14 percent of the general population.

A Defense Department report from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, which was distributed at this briefing, explains that most blacks in the military serve in administration and other support jobs. They make up only 15 percent of the combat arms positions.

In the Persian Gulf War, the first major test of the all-volunteer force, 23 percent of service members were black, while blacks comprised only 17 percent of combat or non-combat deaths, the report stated.

This official also refuted the oft-held notion that military recruits come from the "poor and uneducated" in American society. He said military recruits come from among the best-educated and most-intelligent segments in society. The vast majority of recruits are high school graduates. By the time they complete their first term of enlistment, many have at least some college.

"We demand a higher level of educational aptitude achievement for most of our recruits than is true of the population at large," the official said. "So we are aiming to get an above-average population in terms of enlisted recruits."

The information paper that was distributed states 90 percent of new military recruits have graduated high school, while only 75 percent of the general population has.

The all-volunteer force is the envy of other countries around the world and of civil society, the official said.

He noted countries in Western Europe and even former Communist Bloc countries in Eastern Europe are following the lead of the United States and asking for this country's help in establishing all-volunteer militaries.

The military's high esteem in civil society is evidenced by the high level of success former service members have when they leave the military. "(Former service members) successfully are offered positions in civilian life and often go on to very senior posts," the official said.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Transcript: Background Briefing on the All Volunteer Force


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