Chairman Supports All-Volunteer Force
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2007 The all-volunteer force has made the nation’s defense the strongest it’s ever been, the U.S. military’s top officer said this week, adding that he would not want to return to a Vietnam-era military by implementing a draft.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen made these comments in response to questions from Army officers about why the Defense Department will not support a draft to relieve forces stretched thin by repeated deployments in the war on terror. Mullen fielded the questions in “town hall” sessions with soldiers as he visited three Army installations this week.
Mullen, who was commissioned in 1968, said he saw first-hand the effects the draft had on the force as it wound down from the war in Vietnam. “I watched the military break apart. … To the best of my ability, I’m never going to let that happen,” he said. “You can read about it, but I was there, so I know; I understand the quality that we had back then.”
Mullen said his comments were not intended as criticism of anyone who served then, but that the overall quality of the military is much higher now. “The quality, the professional level of our armed services right now, every single branch … is so exceptionally high, and it’s that which I believe we have to preserve,” he said.
The admiral said the U.S. military now serves as a model that other nations look to as an example of how to train, fight, equip and develop a force. He said the fact that troops chose to serve is the foundation for that quality.
“The bedrock principle of this country is young people who raise their right hand and swear to support and defend the constitution of the United States,” Mullen said.
During the town hall meetings, the admiral acknowledged the stress frequent deployments have had on the force, particularly the Army. But, he said, that may be fixed by a combination of growing the force and retooling the role of the National Guard and reserves as part of the total force. At the same time, he conceded, recruiters are facing leaner years to come even though they met their goals this year.
“The propensity for service is going down. Decision makers, who are dominated by parents and family and coaches and teachers, … are not as supportive of the military service as they were a few years ago,” Mullen said.
Also, the pool of eligible candidates is getting smaller, and there is more competition for recruits, he said. This has led to the Army allowing more soldiers to join this year with waivers for minor criminal offenses on their records.
Mullen heard complaints from officers that the increase in waivers from the Army has turned into more discipline problems for commanders. However, in another meeting with two Army lawyers during the visit, the chairman said the Army has yet to see any actual data that the waivers are leading to more discipline problems.
“I don’t know if it’s too soon or not. This is not an issue that is constant,” he said. Mullen said it may just be too soon to actually quantify the problem with hard data, and that leaders need to monitor the issue.
When asked about the reserves’ increasing role and future, the chairman said officials will have to determine an optimal mix of operational forces, with shorter call-up times and regularly scheduled deployments, and true strategic reserves.
“On the Army side, there is a tremendous (future) commitment to top-of-the-line equipment going to the Guard,” Mullen said. “The dependency that we have on the Guard and Reserve in the fight that we have right now, we’re going to continue to have that.”
Managing all of these issues in a time of “great change” in the military and during a concurrent war is a challenge, the admiral said.
“Preserving this, making sure that we don’t break our military, is a huge priority for me, and I’ve said, ‘It’s not broken, but its breaking,’” Mullen said. “So that’s why this whole issue of reliving stress on the force is so important.”
“This is the best military I think this nation has ever had. I’m old enough to remember when we were a draft force, … and I am not anxious to return to that. The exceptional, professional military we have right now I wouldn’t trade for anything. The stress is an issue, and it is one of great concern for me,” he said.