Volunteer force may be ‘severely degraded’ soon, retired general says

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, left, talks to a veteran before last weekend's Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam memorial in Washington, at which he was one of the speakers. McCaffrey said Friday that the all-volunteer force could be “severely degraded” within two years unless major recruiting and retention reforms are made soon.


By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 18, 2006

WASHINGTON — The all-volunteer force could be “severely degraded” within two years unless major recruiting and retention reforms are made soon, according to a retired Army four-star.

“We’re in trouble,” said retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former commander of U.S. Southern Command. “We’re making some very short-term decisions. This is a problem of resources and political will."

McCaffrey, speaking on a panel at the Military Officers Association of America symposium, military base pay isn’t high enough to entice the top high schoolers to enlist, and politicians haven’t done a good enough job appealing to Americans' sense of duty to help with recruiting.

“I don’t believe we’ve ever fielded a more effective fighting force than we have today,” he said.

“But we’ve had some problems in the last year with the number and quality of people coming into the armed forces. Generally speaking we’ve quadrupled the number of the lowest mental categories. We’ve quadrupled the number of high school graduates. We’re putting 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 moral waivers into the armed forces.”

The panel on Thursday said recent recruiting difficulties are a combination of a lack of emphasis on military service in society and the heavy deployment of both active duty and reserve forces. And the experts said if those issues aren’t addressed, the recruiting difficulties will only grow, jeopardizing the readiness of the military.

Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said the current recruiting environment may be the most challenging the service has faced since the draft ended 33 years ago.

He pointed to high schools and colleges who block military recruiters — and noted the San Francisco Board of Education’s recent decision to end JROTC programs there — and indications that the general public has not put enough emphasis on the importance of serving the country.

William Chatfield, director of the selective service program, said that military recruiting has evolved into “what the Army can do for young people, not what they can do for their country.”

Stephen Duncan, director of the National Defense University’s Institute for Homeland Security, said one of the side effects of moving to a voluntary military from the previously drafted forces was a lack of connection between combat overseas and U.S. society as a whole.

“Now we’re in a situation where the folks who step forward to volunteer are paying a disproportionate share for the freedoms of everyone else,” he said.

Other panelists noted that private contractors in Iraq can make baseline salaries over $100,000, while young privates often make only a small fraction of that amount.

McCaffrey said more bonuses and better base pay for young servicemembers will help solve some of those financial problems.

But he said in order to make sure the military has enough people to respond to future threats, Congress needs to increase the size of the entire force: not just active-duty troops but also the reserves, Coast Guard and border patrol units.

More people will mean more time between deployments and less reliance on the reserves, he said.

“Are we undermanned? Of course we are, for god’s sake,” he said. “We’ve got to get our resources to match our rhetoric and our strategy.”

But getting that larger pool will require action and more defense funding from Congress, and more promotion of the military by politicians.

“I have not heard the commander in chief, any governor, any mayor, any member of Congress ever stand in front of a TV camera and ask the country to send their boys and girls to fight with us,” he said.

“I’ve pushed the president to get that in one of his speeches. What I heard was, in a speech at Fort Bragg, ‘If you’re considering a career in the military there could be no more honorable way to serve.’ That’s not the same. We need people to fight.”

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