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The All-Volunteer Force Conference
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Washington, DC, Tuesday, September 16, 2003

It's a real pleasure to be here and to join you here this evening.  As you know, for the past few years in Washington and around the Pentagon, much of the talk has been about transformation -- what the President in his speech at the Citadel, back in the year 2000, described as “a new strategic vision for our military.”  And as a result, a lot of things have changed.  Dramatic changes have been introduced, affecting the many aspects of our defense. 


But, as we look back, there's no question that one of the most important transformations affecting the American military in the last half century was the move to a volunteer force, a truly transformational change that is now three decades old.  And it brings home, I think, the fact that transformation is about a lot more than just technology. 


Indeed, in this case -- and someone may correct me, maybe there was a little bit of information technology involved there somewhere at the edges -- it seems to me this is a transformation that had virtually nothing to with technology.  And it also brings home the fact that the benefits of a successful transformation can carry forward for decades.


Today we can look back on the all-volunteer force with the perspective of 30 years of experience.  We can see that we owe an enormous debt to the visionaries who implemented this transformation 30 years ago.


I see from your agenda that you'll be hearing tomorrow from my boss, the Secretary of Defense.  That will be an extraordinary opportunity to hear about the current state of our military from a leader who helped to pioneer the all-volunteer force, first as a Congressman and then as the Secretary of Defense.  That alone is truly remarkable.  I can think of few other examples in Washington, where an official, who helped to engineer a major change in one era, is back on the scene a generation later, not only to evaluate the results, but once more to lead the very organization that was transformed by his earlier policy decisions.  So the Secretary's perspective is unique, and I know that what he has to say will be well worth hearing.


You know, I have a certain leg up on the Secretary.  He's only been back to the Pentagon twice, and I'm back for the third time.  Now, I don't know whether that's a leg up, or a leg down, but when he swore me in, he said "Paul, we're going to keep bringing you back until you get it right."  And I wasn't impertinent enough to say "Well, what do we infer from your coming back?"


But indeed, my perspective is drawn from three separate tours of duty in the Pentagon over the course of 26 years.  And in my judgment, the all-volunteer force has been an unqualified success.  Wherever you spent time with American forces, whether here in the United States or in distant places abroad, you cannot help but be impressed. 


Indeed, I don't think that's an adequate term.  I think “awestruck” is a little more appropriate.  Awestruck by their dedication and their professionalism.  By their courage and their patriotism.  And maybe most of all by the fact that they retained the marvelous qualities of citizen soldiers.  They reflect the values that characterize this country, the ingenuity that I think is typically American, and the humanity that we aspire to and our military so often achieves.


Most recently I was in Iraq, where I spent five days with our troops -- all of them, of course, volunteers, both active and Reserve and National Guard.  And seeing them in the field, meeting difficult challenges in a dangerous and complex environment day in and day out, left me feeling that these young men and women are nothing short of incredible.  Some of them may think they're not so young, but I'm old enough to see them all that way. 


They are brave when they have to fight, and they are caring and ingenious and extraordinarily imaginative when they deal with complex humanitarian, political and civil military challenges, as they're doing every day.  What they do in a day's work is remarkable.  And it's an enormous tribute to our country that we can attract such men and women to volunteer their services to our nation.  Many examples come to mind.  Let me share a few with you. 


I spent quite a bit of time with the Marines down in the so-called Shia heartland of Iraq, that contains the two holy cities of Shia Islam, Karbala and Najaf ‑‑ Najaf, of course the place where that horrible bombing took place a few weeks ago.  You know, the bombing came as a shock.  It came as a shock to everyone.  I think it's still the superficial impression of most American newspaper readers that it reflects great instability in Iraq.  If you stop and think about it, it doesn't take many people to place a car bomb, especially in front of a mosque that, by choice of the worshippers, wasn't guarded.


We had one in Oklahoma City.  We had one in the basement of the World Trade Center back 10 years ago.  What is really remarkable, actually, I think, is the extraordinary calm and maturity with which that huge Shia population reacted to this tragedy.  You could have a funeral procession, I believe of some 25,000 people, passing tens or even a hundred miles, with hundreds of thousands of people turning out to watch the procession go by -- as far as I know, without a single violent incident.


And I think some significant portion of that stability can be credited to the remarkable job that our Marines did in the months that they were there.  At one point during their time there, one of the Division chaplains suggested that his Marines bring cold water to the Iraqis they encountered.  Because when it's 115 degrees, this chaplain pointed out, it's awfully hard to dislike someone who's giving you cold water. 


Those same troops employed what they call wave tactics.  When they see Iraqis, they wave.  And when the Marines are talking to people, they realize they need to take off their sunglasses, so they're dealing with them face-to-face.  It's very common -- and I observed it when I was there -- for young children to run up to Marines and take their hands as they patrol the streets. 


And I don't know which young corporal or lieutenant gets the credit for this, but the Marines instituted another important gesture.  On one early occasion, when they saw a funeral procession passing by, this young officer told his men to present arms and salute.  And they did so.  And that's now become the standard practice, I think, not only among the Marines in the south, but elsewhere in the country.


Whenever they rebuilt a school -- in Karbala alone there are nine such schools -- they'd present a brass bell with the inscription, "To the children of Iraq from the First Marine Division." 


Throughout Iraq, our soldiers and our Marines have created functioning local governing councils.  Some 90 percent or more of the towns of Iraq now have local governing.  The governor or Karbala captured this development very well, I think, when he told me -- I'm now quoting --  "We Shia have theological ties to Iran, but we refused to be followers of any country outside Iraq.  I want to stress, we aspire to independence and democracy.  We want to heal the wounds from the past regime's atrocities.  We want to build factories, bring in the Internet, practice our religious rights in freedom, have good relations with our neighbors and the world.”   I'm still quoting the governor of Karbala here.  "The Marines in Karbala," he said, "commanded by Lt. Colonel Lopez, worked day and night with our governing council to provide security and services." 


The council down south in Najaf said similar things about Lt. Colonel Conlan, the commander there.  Up in northern Iraq, in the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk, which is under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Infantry Division, U.S. Army, commanded by Lt. General Ray Odierno, I met with another town council.  There, it's a rich ethnic mixture of Arabs and Kurds and Turkomen and Christians, all represented on the town council. 


I might point out, by the way, these are the people who before the war were supposed to engage in bloody ethnic conflict once the Saddam regime was gone.  And thanks, I think, both to them and to the skill and dedication of our troops, we've had enormous stability up there.


Many of the 18 members of that ethnically mixed town council spoke of their gratitude to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and what the translator called “the election forces” -- I think he meant “the coalition forces” -- for the liberation of Iraq.  That word, “liberation,” was used repeatedly by the members of the town council. 


One Sunni Arab spoke eloquently of the need to return Kurdish property to their rightful owners.   He said, “All Iraqis were victims of the last regime.”  And others spoke of our troops who worked with them "in a nice way to help solve our problems.”  They said the doors of your army “are always open to us.”  And “we found out” -- a quote again -- "the Americans are our brothers, who came as liberators, not as conquerors." 


Further north, in Mosul, I walked around the town's main square with a captain from the 101st Air Assault Division.  As we passed a line of butcher shops, this young company commander told me about a post-war problem they'd encountered, when the butchers started slaughtering carcasses in the street, and leaving the garbage out in front of their shops. 


Of course, in the old days, that was a problem that would have been settled by just shooting a few butchers, and the rest would have gotten the message.  It's not a very good way to do business, and it's certainly not our way.  Instead, this young West Point graduate had organized a butchers association, so that he would have an authoritative group that he could deal with and write down the rules and get agreement.


And I asked him, “Did they teach you that in some class at West Point?”  And of course, he laughed and said no.  One of the Marines had earlier told us that most of what he was doing, he'd learned in sixth grade.  And it's not a joke.  I mean, there's a lot of basic American civics that is carried along and applied in imaginative and ingenious ways by the troops on a daily basis.


I would emphasize, our coalition partners include the Iraqis themselves.  In fact, and again, due in no small measure to the ingenuity and training, not only of our military, but of some very dedicated civilians working in CPA, there are now 55,000 Iraqis fighting with us, 40,000 of them in the police, 15,000 in other services. 


Those numbers are growing rapidly.  But if you stop and analyze it, the 55,000 there already, represent the second-largest member of the coalition.  They've already taken the second-largest number of casualties, with some 50 dead.  But it is their country they're fighting for, and we need to help them do it.  We're helping them to do it, and that all-volunteer force is key to the success.


I testified a month ago in the Senate with Army Vice Chief of Staff Jack Keane, and he said something I want to quote.  He said of his young soldiers and Marines, and, for that matter, the other services as well, "They bring the values of the American people to this conflict.  They understand firmness, and they understand determination.  But they also understand compassion.  Those values are on display every day" ‑‑ I'm still quoting from General Keane -- "as they switch from dealing with an enemy to taking care of a family." 


Recently, I was with General John Abizaid, our Central Command commander, and he said -- first to some Senators in private, and then he said this in public to some reporters -- that after being back in the United States for a week, and hearing over-heated news reports about the deplorable situation in Iraq, he was starting to think maybe he needed to go back to Baghdad “to find someone to surrender to.” 


But when he talks to our troops, who are well-informed by first-hand knowledge, General Abizaid said -- and these are his words -- "They are so confident and so positive that it takes me only about 30 minutes to understand we've got this under control."  And I must say, I think that experience has been true of almost everyone I know of who's gone out and visited with our troops.  At all levels.  From the most senior commanders to the most junior enlisted people. 


Those are just a few examples of what our Armed Forces are achieving in Iraq.  They're doing similar things in Afghanistan and in Kosovo and in so many other places around the globe.  We just got a report from a journalist who visited Basilan Island, where a year ago our Army Special Forces, supported by the Marines and the Navy, did some remarkable work to root out terrorists from the Abu Saif group who've dug in there in Basilan and through civil affairs projects to try to win the people back to the government.  And it's a project whose effects have lasted long after our troops left.


These and other things demonstrate why our all-volunteer force -- both active and Reserve components -- constitute the most effective fighting force in the world today.  And I would add it as a quality force because we have standards, high standards.  While everyone serving is a volunteer, not everybody who volunteers gets to serve.  That's because we are a selective military.   Uncle Sam still wants you, but only those who score well on our enlistment test and have a high school equivalent. 


I'm sure all of you are aware that it wasn't always like this.  In the draft era -- and even in the early years of the all-volunteer force -- standards were not as high as they are today.  And empirical research has shown that high standards pay off in terms of higher performance and lower attrition.  And they're worth the cost. 


Because admittedly, volunteers cost more than conscripts.  And we had to change the way we thought about how we procure and manage our people.  Manpower can no longer be regarded as abundant and cheap, but rather had to be treated as it should be, as scarce and expensive. 


And we had to learn how to compete in the civilian labor market for young people.  That meant paying a lot of attention to the compensation and quality of life package that we offer prospective recruits.  But a quality force is a productive force, and it has to be compensated accordingly.  It costs money to maintain standards.


But studies have shown that for a given level of force effectiveness, the all-volunteer force is, in fact, less expensive.  This conclusion comes from three principal factors. 


First of all, a conscripted force involves higher personnel turnover, shorter enlistment terms, and degradation in unit stability and performance.  Higher turnover means more recruits, and as a result more supervision and training.  And more training means more trainers, so that an increasing proportion of military resources gets diverted from corps readiness to support for basic kinds of training.


Second, draftees are less likely to reenlist.  So a conscripted force has to be considerably larger than your volunteer force.  And it also tends to be younger and less experienced.


And third, as we're seeing today, a volunteer force is a motivated force.  People perform better if they are true volunteers than if they are coerced into service.  The recruitment of volunteers has given us a higher-quality force, as measured by aptitude levels, and in the long run that quality and that motivation are both more productive and less expensive.


And so the all-volunteer force is a tremendous success.  Today more than 1.4 million men and women choose to serve on active duty in the Armed Forces along with another 880,000 in the National Guard and Reserves.  It is a diverse force.  It represents the rich culture and tradition and values of America. 


Our service members are high quality, well trained, and highly skilled.  They are motivated, experienced, and compassionate -- professionals in every sense of the word.  They have defended America's interests and our security for three decades, and they are clearly prepared to meet the challenges of this war on terrorism.


It is a force that is held in high esteem -- indeed, I think, in awe -- both here at home and around the world.  It is recognized for what it does to advance democracy and peace and freedom.  And I have no doubt that the all-volunteer force was the right choice for America 30 years ago, and it remains the right choice today. 


If there are still any skeptics, I would conclude by reminding them that the volunteer military in America is not a novelty.  Its introduction 30 years ago marked a return to the traditional practice that prevailed from the time of Lexington and Concord until the Civil War.  It was the insatiable manpower needs of that tragic conflict that led to the use of the draft in both the North and the South. 


So 138 years after the Civil War that introduced the draft to America, we can confidently say that the United States has successfully and proudly returned to the tradition of the all-volunteer force.  All of those volunteers remain in the great tradition of citizen soldiers. 


For that, our whole country can be thankful and grateful.  And for those of you who helped to pioneer the all-volunteer force, I'd like to say my personal thanks as well.  Thank you very much.