Army vice chief of staff Cody worried about future of all-volunteer military
Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — The Army’s vice chief of staff says he’s been losing sleep lately over the future of the all-volunteer force.
“What keeps me awake at night is what this all-volunteer force will look like in 2007,” Gen. Richard Cody told lawmakers recently on Capital Hill.
It’s a concern others should share, he says.
“I think it ought to keep all of you awake,” he told a gathering of reporters Wednesday.
Nearly 31 years since it replaced the draft Army of both world wars, Korea and Vietnam, the all-volunteer force is facing its first real test, Cody said.
“This is the first time we’ve taken the all-volunteer force into an extended fight,” Cody said. “It’s not a Kosovo, it’s not a Bosnia, it’s not a [Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping mission] in the Sinai,” he said. “It is a war. On any given day, we have 156,000 soldiers for 12 months in a combat zone, as well as — still — all those other commitments.”
It’s a pace that could be crippling, he said.
“I worry about the soldiers with their second and third tour by ’07 since 9/11,” Cody said.
Indeed, for the first time since Vietnam, the sheer volume of operations means even relatively junior troops are already becoming veterans of multiple combat tours. Soldiers who served as privates in the 3rd Infantry Division as it invaded Iraq, for example, are now returning to Iraq as corporals and sergeants.
The all-volunteer force was born on July 1, 1973, in the wake of years of protest against the draft during the war in Vietnam. Ever since, the Army has traded orders to serve for “Be all you can be” and, more recently, “Army of One” advertising campaigns to convince young Americans to raise their right hands and wear the uniform.
But two years into the war in Iraq, recruiting efforts are beginning to show cracks.
For the first two months of the year, both Army and Marine Corps recruiters have failed to meet their quotas to sign up new volunteers.
“That, correctly so, is a concern,” Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff told Pentagon employees Friday during a town hall meeting.
While he said more recruiters and advertising dollars are being thrown into the mix to help tilt the balance, Pace encouraged everyone in uniform to help in the effort.
“All of us should be talking about the value of service to country,” Pace said. “Not just about military service to country, but about young folks finding a niche in this society where they can serve the country for some time, in my mind, pay back a little bit what they’ve gotten from this country.”
Cody agrees. And key for convincing young folks is what he calls the “influencers.”
“We’re seeing right now mothers and fathers and school teachers and other influencers that maybe are not talking about service to this nation,” Cody said. “So, when you say, ‘Army, you have a recruiting problem,’ I say, ‘America, you have a recruiting problem.’”
In the end, says Cody, it comes down to simple questions like, “What kind of Army do you want to have? Is service to this country important to you?”
Stretching the force
For those already in uniform, Cody said the Army must do a better job of providing good housing and basic quality of life, especially as the service adds 30,000 soldiers to its active ranks and 70,000 troops now forward-based in Europe and Asia are repositioned back to the United States.
“The net result is going to have 100,000 more soldiers back in the continental United States on the active side,” said Cody, adding that existing bases will have to be expanded to handle the influx.
This comes, he said, even as the Army has had to mortgage base maintenance accounts to help fund the war in Iraq.
The Army he said has cut base funding by 30 percent. Four weeks ago, however, Army leaders decided to tighten their belt in other areas and have come up with about $3 billion to reduce the base maintenance shortfall to 10 percent.
Meanwhile, the basic tools of the trade have taken a beating as well.
Cody said the Army has lost 79 aircraft, three companies worth of tanks, and three companies worth Bradley Fighting Vehicles over the past three and half years of non-stop combat that began with the invasion of Afghanistan.
“This fight,” Cody said, “has taken a toll.”
If left unchecked, he said, that toll could have dire consequences.
“If we as a country don’t show our appreciation — and that appreciation is really in how well we resource them, how well we take care of the families, how well we get the balance right so that we can give some predictability into the Guard and Reserves as well as into our active force — then I think we will have stretched this all volunteer force.
While Cody stopped short of warning that the military could have to return to a draft, some experts say that may not be too far over the horizon.
Close to breaking
Some corners of Congress have already been calling for a draft for more than a year now.
New York Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat, introduced legislation last year calling for exactly that. Although his bill made no headway, the issue continues to receive debate as the war in Iraq drags on.
“The all-volunteer force is close to breaking right now,” said retired Maj. Gen. Edward Atkeson, now a prolific author on military affairs and a senior fellow at the Institute of Land Warfare. “When it does break, that’s when you’ll see the draft come back.”
Atkeson said cracks are already showing with the use of stop loss to keep troops in beyond their active contracts and massive reserve mobilizations.
“The worst-case scenario is that things just continue as they are.”
Sons, nephews help Cody keep tabs
Gen. Richard Cody has a small squad of scouts scattered among Army units sending him muddy boots-level intelligence on what the troops are talking about.
“I have the fortune of having these young leaders, who happen to be my sons and nephews, that talk to me about their soldiers,” the Army’s vice chief of staff said Thursday.
Cody’s two sons are both captains and combat vets in the 101st Airborne Division. One is getting ready for his second combat tour, the other his third.
Cody also has three nephews wearing Army green as well. One of them is downrange now.
“So I get some direct input,” Cody said. His boys offer glimpses of what troops wrestle with the traditional chain of command could never offer.
“There’s not many layers between a father and his sons,” Cody said. “I get some pretty good insights as to what’s bothering their soldiers, why their soldiers would reenlist and why they won’t reenlist.”
— Jon R. Anderson