Monday, January 20, 2014

MythBusters - Part II

To be realistic, we have to accept the fact that without a major existential threat requiring general mobilization, the AVF is a done deal.  For this reason, I wouldn’t normally spend a minute or two analyzing the “Conscription vs AVF” issue.  However, there are some unsupportable claims about the AVF that I have problems with, and while refuting them will not change anything, I prefer we face the truth, warts and all.  

Here are my thoughts about the end of the Draft in the US.  First off, my first 13 of 35 total years of military service (with a couple of years of drilling reserve mixed in) were “draft years”.  I lived and worked through the full spectrum of draft environment, transition and AVF.  Second, I’m going to offer some specifics solely from the Army, as that’s the Branch of Service in which the final 29 of those 35 years was spent, was the service that accessed the bulk of conscripts and with which I am most familiar. 

I will begin with a brief socio-political introduction, and then offer my views from a technocratic standpoint.

Unfortunately, for analytical purposes, it’s difficult to determine whether the end of the Draft was the result of “national service” itself being unpopular, or the Draft being a proxy for the Viet Nam War, a costly and unpopular venture.  Richard Nixon et. al. did a good job of confusing the two in the public discourse.  During the 20th Century, there is no hard and fast correlation between acceptance of conscription and war itself.  However, it would appear that when a given war has particularly low popular support, any form of involuntary military service becomes a target for public outrage, with Viet Nam being the example of conscription’s death knell.  But similarly, remember the cries of outrage at a “de facto draft” to describe the various “Stop Loss” and IRR mobilization initiatives as the Iraq War became less and less “popular” and recruiting and retention more difficult.

But back to 1973.  Once the military received their marching orders, it was basically a case of “Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three Bags Full.” We were given a lawful order and we were sworn to obey it.  The AVF, by definition, was to be a success, at least in terms of recruiting and retention. And the challenges of maintaining a large, Cold War force were many.  But without any significant conflict that posed an existential threat, the DOD was free to define “success” as it saw fit.   If you recall, the Army was "combat ready” (at least in the voices at the highest levels) for quite a while, until the moment they defined it otherwise: “In 1977, a few months after Carter’s inauguration, Lieutenant General Harold Moore, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, told senators on the Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Manpower and Personnel, “Today we have a combat-ready active force of which the nation can be justifiably proud.”   Yes, folks, Hal Moore of book and movie fame.    Very soon, however, it was to be called a “Hollow Army” by the CSA.  Come on!  The "official story" changes to meet policy pressures, but the Services have a nice, sexy warning in the war on shrinking budgets - "Beware another Hollow Army".

Now on to the serious stuff:

Does the AVF provide a “better” military or “better” service members than the conscript motivated military?  It does, indeed, provide a “different” military, but I have never seen competent research on the subject of “better”.  For example, it’s difficult to compare the AVF to the military of 1960 – 1973, for some significant reasons:

1) Active Duty end strength has been on a significant general decline from 1970 until today.  There are some 55% FEWER uniformed billets to fill in the Army, Air Force and Navy today than in 1970, and 23% fewer Marine billets.
2) Many tasks have been shifted from the Uniformed Services to civilians (to include contractors), in a major part, to compensate for, or create reduced uniformed end strength (See 1 above).  These include not just drudge work, but significantly skilled maintenance and logistics tasks.  Thus, the very scope and nature of tasks performed by uniformed personnel has changed.
3) The relative available labor pool has increased as a result of increased opportunities for women in the military.
4) Technology has significantly replaced “brain power”, often reducing the level of human skill required across an entire spectrum of tasks.
5) Weapon system accuracy and lethality has advanced greatly.

So, let’s see how the AVF is “better”.  For this part of “MythBusters”, let’s address the claim that the AVF provides a  “smarter” or “better educated” force than the “Draft Motivated, Conscript Supplemented Force” (DMCSF) described in Part I.  I will address “performance” in another thread. 

One indicator tossed out is number of accessions with high school diplomas as well as  “some college”.  Even if accurate data was readily available from the 1960-73 period on this variable, “some college” in 1960 –1973 represents a totally different achievement than post 1973.  Why?  Because “open admissions” at universities and community colleges were not a universally available option before about 1970, when the community college boom really began to gain traction.  In short, you had to be “college material” to acquire “some college” during the Draft years.  No longer so.  Mere attendance in the absence of entrance criteria does not provide a measurable academic ability or achievement metric.  Further confounding the use of “some college” as an indicator of personnel quality is the post “open admissions” phenomenon of the need for over 25% of all college freshmen (>40% at community colleges) to take remedial course work in English, Reading and Math.  Yet these students can take courses in History, Art and some Vocational subjects while trying to remediate their basic academic shortcomings.  Thus, there is a fair population of “some college” who have been found to not have mastered high school level basics.  In short, “some college” is a very questionable metric.

Interestingly, about 55% of the general population has at least “some college”, while USAREC reports RA and USAR accessions with “some college” ranging from 8.3 to 13.7% over the last 10 years.  So even if one ascribes some form of a quality metric to “some college”, the Army AVF accessions population possesses about ¼ of this “quality” as does the general population.

If you look at accession results for 2012, you find that educational level achieved is not necessarily an indicator of "smarts".  Here are the High School Diploma Graduate (HSDG) and AFQT CAT 1 – IIIA  rates for active component enlistees.  Pretty hard to say a diploma predicts much:

Army:   HSDG = 100%    CAT I-IIIA = 64%
Navy:   HSDG =    99%   CAT I-IIIA = 90%
USMC:  HSDG = 100%    CAT I-IIIA = 75%
USAF:   HSDG =   99%    CAT I-IIIA = 98%

Reserve component stats show similar figures, except that the Air NG and Air Reserve are at a 79% CAT I-IIIA level.  You don’t have to be as talented to make drills in the Air Force Reserve?  The data does support that, as Mike, seydlitz and I have known for years, the Corps is smarter than the Army.

The AVF is drawing on those mental categories because they represent the population that has asked to join, and the services have had to take, to meet accessions goals.  Comparisons to the mental categories of the Viet Nam DMCSF are seriously difficult to make, as by direction of Robert MacNamara in 1966, a minimum of 100,000 low mental category accessions had to be made annually, regardless of the quality of the volunteer and conscript manpower pool available.  In short, the MacNamara force was “dumbed down” intentionally.

Thus, I would offer that any claim of a “smarter” or “better educated Force” as a direct result of ending conscription or initiating an AVF is difficult to support.

Of course, one could say, “Look at the amazing technology today’s young troops are able to operate” as an indirect indicator of "smarts".  Troops in all periods of American history operated equipment that was state of the art at that point in time.  The only technology they can operate is that which exists, so any assumption of whether a 1968 troop would be less able to operate 2013 technology is patent foolishness.  I would also ask, which takes greater mental acumen, shooting a couple of back azimuths to determine one’s location, or reading the screen of a GPS?  The GPS may be faster and more accurate, but that speed and accuracy is a product of the device, not the operator.  I am more impressed with Chief’s ability to calculate target data with paper and pencil than SGT Snuffy’s ability to type that data into a GPS assisted computer.  A data entry clerk is still a data entry clerk, no matter how exotic the computer may be.  Today’s Army is probably more lethal and capable due in a greater part to advances in technology than as a result of the operators of that technology.  I have no doubt that a 1969 draftee could get location data from a GPS as readily and accurately as a modern “warrior”.  What we don’t know is how readily a current troopie can shoot a couple of back azimuths to triangulate his position.  We are drawing these AVF recruits from the same population that cannot figure change in their heads at a cash register, not because they might be dumb, but because they are technology dependent. 

As to the skill shown in maintaining this wondrous technology, well, take a look at what is done to trouble shoot most of these systems – plug in a technologically advanced diagnostic device, read the results and follow the instructions.  Complex equipment in my field of expertise, Aviation, has been moving more and more to “maintenance” that is the removal and replacement of plug n play modules that are evacuated to civilian repair facilities.  I have no argument with that, as it makes the maintenance process faster than using oscilloscopes and signal injectors, but it does not require any grand knowledge on the part of the troops to do this, just a pair of mating electrical connectors and a responsive contract  logistics system to keep up with demand. 

One could also offer that since a fair portion of the “drudge work” has been civilianized, essential tasks (simple stuff like feeding the troops) that could have employed lower mental category or skill level  individuals, is simply done by people in civvies, who are not tallied in the force statistics of the AVF as they were in the Viet Nam DMCSF.  “Creative Accounting” in action?

Lastly, has the AVF allowed the Services to be more selective in accessions?  Sometimes, kind of, but not consistently.   The 30 years of the AVF is peppered with reductions in standards to meet accession objectives, just as was done when the pool of “better” candidates in the general population, adjusted for war industry needs, ran dry during WWII.  No such reduction in qualifications was needed during the Korean War, as access to the general population provided sufficient volunteers and supplement conscripts to maintain standards.  The lower mental category accessions of the MacNamara Viet Nam era were not of "need", a result of “Project 100,000, to meet some bizarre social idea of Mac.  Following the difficult days of Iraq (2005 - ), virtually every Army entrance standard (mental, physical, “moral” and age) had to be loosened to meet a mere 80,000 AC and 24,000 USAR goal, not to mention the massive recruiting budgets and enlistment bonus enticements.   Yet in the 2005 and onward case, there were still massive numbers of qualified candidates in the general population who just weren’t interested in signing up.  Similarly, the Army has had to loosen RC commissioning qualifications for quite some time to try to meet (unsuccessfully , so far) officer strength objectives.

In short, on the human resources side of the coin, I would offer that there is no conclusive data that supports a “better troops” notion as a result of the AVF versus conscription, other than possibly higher PT standards.


  1. Anecdotally, I was on both ends of the funnel at one point or another in my career. As a drill sergeant I can't say that I was remarkably impressed with my BCT trainees as particularly brighter or more disciplined than, say, my students as an instructor in high school and community college. And as an section sergeant and platoon sergeant I won't say that the selection and training process produced markedly brighter and better disciplined troops.

    I love reading and watching the recent trend in hymns to the American Warrior; tough, dedicated, selfless, creative, and patriotic, while thinking; you people probably write letters to the paper talking about those lazy, shiftless kids lying around playing video games and smoking weed. Who the hell do you think joins the Army to become a grunt? It's the same kids, just a little less shaggy and a little more fit. But anyone who has ever been in charge of a platoon of U.S. snuffies knows that the same smartasses, jokers, fuckups, jerkoffs, and knuckleheads are there, just wearing the same colored clothes...

  2. Chief-

    In the main, I also found the Soldiers I served with were generally of the same quality. The key element is a touch of leadership and the provision of a sense of mission, as the mission is the only common objective that can be shared.

    As one troopie put it, "All I expect is to be given a Soldierly job, to do in a Solderly fashion, for a Soldierly reason, a place to flop and some grub."

  3. Al-

    Very nice thread.

    "The data does support that, as Mike, seydlitz and I have known for years, the Corps is smarter than the Army."

    Laughed out loud when I read that. It's true, but that doesn't necessarily make it a better place in terms of individual unit . . . or individual experience . . .

  4. Personally and professionally, I have serious qualms about the notion of comparing the "quality" of the troops across time, as it is typically in the context of either a desire to "elevate" one group or denigrate another, in order to justify a policy decision or someone's own group, and thus is often based on conclusions desired, rather than fact.

    The overarching fact of the matter is that in the 20th Century, the "product" of our accession methods achieved the desired technical and tactical military results at the operator level. Any operational, logistical, strategic or policy failure was a product of echelons well above accession techniques. Our line troops have basically and generally handled the task presented to them with the tools available.

    I remember a bivouac bull session about how things were "tougher in the Old Corps", which led to what really was "The Old Corps", and of course, the "Old, Old Corps" was tougher than just "The Old Corps" . The guys with more years service and herring bone utilities (anyone remember those?) would bolster their claims by saying how Boot Camp has softened, for example. Our Gunnery Sergeant, a vet of WWII and Korea, remarked, "You know, I've been in our Beloved Corps for 22 years and have listened to these claims that entire time. So, I finally sat down and extrapolated all the info presented about the Corps being progressively tougher in the past - all the way back in time to Tun Tavern. As best I could determine, Boot Camp was so tough, it inflicted a 100% fatality rate until 1824, when the Corps finally made it easy enough for the first 'Cruit to survive. Cut the crap, men. Marines have been, currently are and always will be Marines."

    BTW, I have just begun reading A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II, by Maury Klein. In my reading so far, he has only really addressed industrial mobilization through Fall 1941, but it's an eye opener. Interestingly, he begins the book saying that rather than being called "The Greatest Generation", the folks of the Depressions and WWII more realistically represent "The Unluckiest Generation". If your use the link above to Amazon, and click on the graphic of the book cover that says "Look Inside" you can read Klein's Preface, "The Unluckiest Generation". At a minimum, the Preface is a must read. Funny thing is that it immediately made me think of Gunny Meade and his "Old Corps extrapolation".

  5. If you look at the old draft board records from the early Forties you'll be pretty horrified at the overall physical condition of the American male born in the Twenties. A hell of a lot of stuff you just don't even think about today; rickets, polio, teeth lost to stuff like scurvy and just plain poor hygiene. Pelagra, hookworm. Plus guys who were just scrawny and stunted from a childhood of near-starvation.

    Unlucky, indeed.

    And the Army had the same sort of bullshit. Recruits in the ooooold Army were beaten twice daily and had to run ten miles uphill both ways to the mess hall for red death and baby dicks if you wanted to earn the right to wear the cotton twill pickle suit (which, BTW, faded to a lovely sort of sage-green and starched so goddamn hard that if you worked hard not to sweat in it you could wear all week - the first thing any private who wanted to look hardcore did back in the late Seventies and early Eighties we run down Yadkin Road and buy a pair from the surplus stores).

    The only problem was that you couldn't get past the essential dorkiness of the baseball cap. A headgear of surpassing ugliness.

  6. Ah, yes, Chief. Can't think of a soul who wore the issue baseball cap if they didn't have to. The cap industry made a fortune on olive drab baseball caps. First on the millions of caps sold to the Army for troop issue, and then on the millions more in a far more acceptable style that the troops bought rather than wear the ultra dorky issue cap.

  7. What was kind of ridiculous (and I don't know how we got off-track on the subject of hats...) was that the Army had a perfectly good pieces of headgear from the old M-1943 "field cap" through the Fifties with the M-1951/1953 caps. They were essentially the same as the "BDU Cap", "patrol cap", or p-cap that was the standard head cover from just after I got in in the early Eighties up until 2001 when Eric Shinseki got a wild hair about putting everyone in berets.

    (We'll avert our eyes from the ridiculous "Ridgeway cap" of the late Fifties...)

    Talk about a classic case of peacetimeArmyitis. The 1943 cap was everything a good piece of military gear should be; durable, comfortable, practical, adaptable, and useful. It could be worn under the M1 helmet or on its own, it had earflaps for cold weather but was cotton so it was comfortable in the heat.

    But it was kind of shapeless, so lots of officers hated the hell out of it. The Ridgeway cap was supposed to be one answer, but I think that gawdawful OG-106 baseball cap (I think they were officially called "Cap, Field, Hot Weather") was supposed to do the job of making the troops look less like ragbags.

    Well, it might have done that. But, as you mention, at the price of making everybody this side of Audie Murphy like like total derps.

    Interestingly, I see that the Army has quitely reverted to the p-cap for Class C uniform wear while apparently retaining the goddamn beret for the now-Class A blues. I saw an Army color guard in blues with their berets recently and, frankly, they looked idiotic. How hard would it be to just bring back the old "service cap" (the "bus driver hat")?

  8. Al-

    Regarding "devices", I think you'll find this interesting if you haven't already come across it . . .

    I think I've mentioned Albert Borgmann before . . .

    Remember the Army baseball cap from ROTC in the mid 1970s. I took the courses as my PE requirement although I was already in the USMCR. The women had a different utility uniform from the men I remember as well.

  9. seydlitz- reminds me of an analogy an elderly (to me) and colorful grad school prof used to explain "technologically unemployed":

    When I was a youth, part of my job was to maintain the living room temperature at a level suitable to my dad. If he said, "It's getting chilly in here", that was my cue to go out back, cut some wood and put it on the fire. My grandson has been given the same temperature management responsibility by my son. But, when my son says, "It's getting chilly in here", all my grandson has to do is adjust the thermostat. That, ladies and gentlemen is technological unemployment.

    Our Vespa society has discussed GPS units, versus paper maps, at great length. Many younger people cannot really "navigate" with a paper map in so far as being able to fix their position as they travel. One fellow said, "With a GPS, I always know where I am". In response, another said, "Do you know, or are you being told?"

    "Professional pilots" regularly and routinely debate whether the new flight management systems make them better pilots through technology assistance, or simply competent technology managers. The crucial moment is when the technology fails or is given erroneous input, as those who become too technology dependent will be slow to recognize the problem, and may even lack the currency in skills necessary to take over human only operation. (Asiana Airlines?)

  10. The crucial moment is when the technology fails or is given erroneous input, as those who become too technology dependent will be slow to recognize the problem, and may even lack the currency in skills necessary to take over human only operation.

    I think that's the critical element, Al. That's why we always run a chart board and slipstick even though the AFATADS can crank through a gunnery solution ten times faster and more accurately.

    The problem with using a "black box", whether its a fire-control computer, a GPS, or a thermostat, is that you have to understand the inputs, the algorithyms, the sensitivity, and the limitations of the instrument to be capable of recognizing when it's not working correctly or, worse, when it IS working correctly but may have been given some bad information - essentially working on the GIGO principle.

    One of the great advantages of being able to not just read but interpret a map was being able to visualize the ground from the way it looked on the paper; if you could do that you had a valuable sort of "larger sense" of whether the place you were standing and the terrain you were seeing looked "like it should" from the map topography...

    I'm working with my daughter now on doing second grade math, and she doesn't understand "why I have to do it THIS way" when I explain that, yes, right now you don't have to write the number of tens you carried over from the ones column at the top of the tens column - because it's always either 1 or 0 (they're doing simple two-digit-number addition). But you need to get into the HABIT so that when you add a column of six or eight figures you remember how many tens you carry over. AND you need to know how to do this because you won't always have a calculator, or, if you do, you need to be able to glance at a column of figures and get a rought sense of what the sum SHOULD be so that you won't just blindly accept what your calculator says only to find out later that you forgot to input one or more of the numbers...

  11. Chief-

    Kinda like the "distinguished" researchers whose "research" was the basis for current economic austerity practices. Failed to catch the computational errors in the Exel spread sheet that a couple of grad students were able to catch? And nations suffer......

    But then, I have problems with research of complex issues using a spread sheet to reach conclusions.

    1. " Failed to catch the computational errors in the Exel spread sheet that a couple of grad students were able to catch? And nations suffer......"

      No, the Excel error was the least of their - errors, to put it kindly. They also deleted data from their data set. The deleted points were all against their hypothesis. They then weighted the data, so that one year in New Zealand with high debt and negative growth + 14 years in the UK with high debt and moderate growth = high debt and negative growth.

      They then talked about their results as if they had proven a causal link, when they had done no such thing (even if the work had been free of errors).

      They then denied that they had drawn causal conclusions.

      They didn't just screw up, although they and all of their friends want to paint it that way.

  12. I suppose I better brush up on my flint knapping.
    You never know when you will need it.

  13. Ael: you laugh, but when I was a young troopie my SF school instructors taught me how to make all sorts of improvised weapons. Basically, what they said was; you might find yourself with nothing but a rock. You're probably going to die, anyway, but why make it a sure thing? If you can kill with a rock at least you have a 0.0001% chance of things going the other way.

  14. I understand that you need to have redundancy (both in people and in systems). However, there are also opportunity costs. The time you spend calculating elevations from tabular firing tables is time you didn't spend doing bayonet training. Now, guess which one you will need more when the proverbial bad day happens.

  15. There is no question that technology can increase speed, accuracy, lethality, etc of a given task. That's a good thing. Troops have been issued improved technology and operated it successfully for centuries towards that very end. As noted in the OP, that's a reflection on the improved level of technology, not necessarily the operator. The 1964 conscript or volunteer was not presented such technology to operate in the first place, so we have no basis for comparison. If the ability to operate machines is an independent measure of troop quality, then troops have been getting "better" continuously since the dawn of time, irrespective of accession method. If you were to apply Gunny Meade's "extrapolation" to this, it would mean that the very first soldier in history was a complete retard, and the first moderately intelligent troop didn't emerge until the Gatling gun! Thus, my conclusion that claiming "better troops" on the basis of the technology they operate today versus X years ago is highly questionable, if not downright preposterous.

    Yes, it's a bit sad that skills are lost or subordinated to machine efficiency, but sentimentality has no place in arming the troops. Still, there are inherent risks in technology dependence, and not just the case where the GPS batteries die. The American Airlines pilot training center has made a major point of this for several years after a major pilot error crash was tied directly to a "surrender to technology" factor. Sometimes, punching new flight data into the flight management computer takes more time than simply flying and navigating the aircraft manually, such as when on final approach and conditions require a change in runway. If your hands on flying skills have been diminished by constant use of automation, there is no "redundancy". (Asiana Airlines?)

  16. I'd argue that for an artilleryman the TFT is a hell of a LOT more important than the bayonet. The likelyhood that the AFATADS may go down is higher - and more destructive to the combined arms fight - than the need to fight off sappers with a bayonet.

    Which is not to say that artillerymen don't need basic combat skills; they do. They just need them on a lower level of priority and training than the grunts do.

    But I don't see how that elides the point; a fundamental understanding of the principle behind the technology is critical to understanding the technology itself. If all you know how to do is feed data into the Black Box and read the output then you really aren't "using" anything; all you're doing is a mechanical version of reading entrails or the flight of birds...

  17. For the sake of civility and fraternity, I'm more than willing to accept it as a "draw" as to the abilities of every generation of troopies.

    What is relevant is whether they get the job done to the standards set by those at much higher pay grades. As far as battlefield results are concerned, the answer is basically, YES. A force of troops can only be measured against the standards to which they are held, using the equipment made available.

    Again, I say any claims of "better" are just not verifiable by any rigorous means.

  18. FD Chief-

    "But I don't see how that elides the point; a fundamental understanding of the principle behind the technology is critical to understanding the technology itself."

    I think this is really what Borgmann's device paradigm is all about. Focal things require interaction and understanding of context . . . devices simply provide a commodity at the push of a button or turning of a dial. If all the sudden all the devices cease to function in the anticipated manner . . . then under the device paradigm the operator is essentially lost . . .

  19. Yep. A calculator is an electronic slipstick is a mechanical way to use a pencil and paper to solve an equation. If you don't understand the fundamental principles of the operation you're trying to perform then you're not really "solving the problem" at all; at best you're taking a shortcut to get a numerical value you need. But, at worst, you're effectively "working magic"; you don't really understand how you got the answer you got, or whether that answer is anything reasonable.

    Take that to the social and political sphere and I think you can get a good sense of why certain groups act the way they do. When "cut taxes" becomes magic and not a reasoned position then you can look at any situation and find a reason to apply the "cut taxes" magic...AND, then, when the utterly predictable and understandable disaster occurs try and explain what happened as everything else but your boneheaded insistence that "cut taxes" is a magic word and not one out of many political options...

  20. If you consider the device paradigm along with binary thinking (good/bad; right/wrong; left/right; "liberal"/"conservative"; "capitalism"/"socialism") as the two basic principles of approaching social/political reality in the US today . . . have we not pretty much described "the box"? As well as also thinking outside of said box . . . ?

  21. Al,

    I'm going on 21 years of service (and counting in both the active and reserve) in the Navy and Air Force and the "quality" argument is one I very rarely hear from my peers. The bigger objection is skepticism regarding integration of a cohort compelled into service. In essence, it's a tension between what would presumably be two "classes" of service which could negatively impact unit cohesion, among other things.

    My own personal opinion is that quality is not a concern when it comes to conscripts, but a lot depends on the term of service. There are many AFSC's (AF term for MOS's), in the Air Force and Navy that require a minimum of 4 years and many require six or more in order to gain basic proficiency as well some useful work. In intelligence, my own profession, it really takes about two years to become minimally qualified.

    As far as technology goes, it makes some things simpler, but other things more complex. "Troubleshooting" requires an additional skillset beyond mechanical aptitude - it's often not just a matter of plug-and-play. Just as an example, during inspections one thing maintainers are tested on is the ability to reprogram aircraft defensive systems to deal with new threats. Fortunately, today's young cohort is comfortable with computers and these newer technologies.

    Operationally it's similar. Aircrew, as one example, need most of the old skills plus the ability to operate a lot advanced technology and a lot of that technology, like civilian technology, is quirky, buggy and unintuitive. IMO technology adds a lot of complexity especially when technology expands capability. More importantly, however, there is a lot more information, data and communication channels available all of which must be processed in real time by the Mk. 1 brain. Information overload is a major concern and one major aim of technology is information management.

    I obviously wasn't around during Vietnam (born in 1968), but I've seen a lot of technological change over the past 21 years and IMO and the advantages and disadvantages are about a wash when it comes to skills and knowledge. The methods change, capabilities improve, but the overall burden remains about the same. In a lot of ways I find myself wishing for the old days - especially before powerpoint.....

    Finally, regarding the quality of accessions, I think it's important to identify causes. Is a reduction in volunteer quality because of a current war people don't want to fight? Is it because of economic conditions? Is it because of a civil-military divide? Is it because people aren't exposed to the military and have no concept of it? Is it because there is no place to serve close to home? Etc. Unlike conscription, where accessions are centrally controlled, the success or failure of an AVF is dependent on a host of other factors and is inherently more volatile.

  22. Andy-

    About length of service requirements. I’m sure you are aware that the AVF Army and Navy have offered two year hitches for quite some time to fill lower skill, less desirable jobs. There have always been lower skill MOS fields that are self limiting in upward mobility needs, and thus “turnover” is used as a part of the management process, rather than retraining in a new career field to provide promotion opportunities. It’s called “personnel management”.

    And then there is the not so widely known “National Call to Service” program, authorized by Congress in 2003, that requires only 15 months active duty service following basic training and MOS schooling, and was mandated to be implemented by all the Services, although the individual services could limit implementation based upon necessary force qualifications and needs. The USAF and USMC gave it token implementation. The USAF limited it to 1% of accessions and only in 29 AFSCs. Perhaps that accounts for the 2% of USAF accessions below CAT-IIIA. The Army openly publicized it in 2005 to address flagging levels of volunteers.

    I have no argument with the premise that some MOS fields require longer training, and thus a longer term of service is justifiable to get a reasonable return on training investment. Some occupational fields were indeed limited to "volunteers" in the Draft era for that very reason. Thus, a qualified Draft Motivated person signs a longer enlistment to choose a more technical field, or a qualified conscript is offered a choice to enlist for a longer term for a "better" MOS, etc, etc. Aviator training resulted in a longer initial obligation, as did the choice of an RA over a USAR commission, if qualified. Where the argument weakens a bit with the "experience" claim, as that it is the practice today, and was during the Draft, to use both entry contract duration and retention incentives to build the experience base. And, at least in the Army and Navy, a two year enlistment is still an acceptable option for a given portion of the Force.

    Unfortunately, there is nothing more than anecdotal and Old Wives Tale "data" about impact on unit cohesion as a consequence of conscripts in the ranks. Conscripts had a variety of attitudes towards, and motives for being in uniform, as do the troops of the AVF. Adventure, God & Country, and so on. Not all conscripts were "compelled" and not all "volunteers" were willfully in uniform. The "Draft Motivated Volunteer" could have been as equally "compelled", but just elected to get a choice of service or MOS. Or, he truly could have desired to perform military service. Similarly, of course, there are those in the AVF who sign up for 4 years and find it wasn't what they expected, but they are "compelled" to serve out their contract. And, how do we compare the “compelling forces” that lead a youngster with no employment opportunities to enlist in the AVF and almost instantly achieve a standard of living he or she could not realize in civilian life, with nowhere to go but up?

    Now for a sociological moment. While it would be impossible to do the ex post facto research to support the claim, I am willing to bet that in 1968, a significant portion of those “compelled” to serve by the Draft, be they conscripts or Draft Motivated, really saw it as their “civic duty”, and, whether they liked that civic duty or not, acceded to it. That was the general sense I got from many, many in the ranks. And definitely those who acceded to their “civic duty” back then probably represented a significantly greater portion of the general population than today’s society, who tend to see “patriotic military service and sacrifice” as someone’s else’s “civic duty”. Not going to say which is “better”, but it is profoundly and fundamentally different.

    To be continued….


  23. To be frank, if any service thrived on "Draft Motivated Volunteers", it would have been the USAF. It was no secret that the odds were that in a single 3 or 4 year hitch in the Air Force, you would "live better", get a higher level of training that will have value in civilian life, and more probably exit relatively unscathed. Sure would make for an attractive option for those qualified and not wanting to spend 2 years as a "grunt". I addressed this as "Option 3" in MythBusters - Part I

    I would note that while never taking in conscripts, the USAF had all the personnel management mechanisms in place to do so, to include a distinct, reserved set of service numbers to be assigned to conscripts, a practice carried forward from their days as part of the Army. Army and USAF service numbers also were differentiated by Component (Active, Reserve and NG) The Navy and Marine Corps did not differentiate component or method of accession in their service numbers. Since USMC service numbers were issued to EM in sequential order, claims of being “Old Corps” could be backed up by comparing service numbers. (Little bit of trivia).

    Of course, the competitive attractiveness of Air Force duty during the Draft years was not without it’s critics. In 1951, Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.) accused the Air Force of attempting to "skim the cream" off the population of potential recruits. "Men of high intelligence who might have made invaluable officers for the Army are now consigned to the ranks of the Air Force as privates," Johnson charged. See, Andy, you Blue Suiters are just conniving bastards.

    But of course, many, many Congresscritters also blasted the Army for employing the troops, recruited at levels mandated by those same Congresscritters, in menial tasks such as cutting grass and painting rocks.

    To be continued…………….

  24. I think a significant part of the misconceptions about the Draft arise from it being painted as a totally arbitrary and random process instituted for the sole purpose of generating "cannon fodder" from the ranks of society’s oppressed. Or, from being blamed for leadership failures of all sorts. It was politically that the Draft "failed", with a lot of help from Nixon. From a manpower management standpoint, it was a success. However, the actual intended function of the Draft as a component of the overall manpower management system was never addressed by, nor visible to, the general population. The political and the "technical" aspects of the Draft are two totally different issues. However, once the political decision was made, the military had no ethical or professional (and might I say “Constitutional”?) choice but to try make the AVF "succeed". As is common in human nature, no one wants to say that they are just muddling along, so we worked hard to turn the AVF into not just a workable replacement for our previous conscription aided form of accessions, but a even “better” form (max OERs require superlatives), although the analytic methods to define “better” are questionable at best, especially in hindsight. I have yet to be convinced that the “retention enhancing” beer dispensers in the barracks, and topless dancers in the Officer’s Club stag bar were any sort of “better”. Even more so when a fair number of the topless dancers at one post where I experienced the phenomenon were EM and NCO wives. Now that’s a cohesion topic we could dedicate a whole thread to!

    The Draft is a political issue that was effectively settled in 1968 by a single campaign promise by Nixon, for purely political reasons, and I have no argument with that. Further, I have no argument with the conclusion that it is, without a major existential threat, a totally irreversible political decision. However, there are so many variables at play that confound any attempt at comparison of the resulting force between the Draft era and the AVF, that any claim of pros and cons, other than in the realm of politics, is subjective at best and spurious at worst. But it does make interesting reading.

    I am not about to try to refute that we have currently a military that is manned by troops that are capable of generally performing to the standards published and enforced. But when the discourse ventures into "quality" of the force, either individually or collectively, as a result of it being all volunteer, I call BS, be it either to those who say "better" and those who say "worse", as the bases of comparison are suspect at best, and invalid at worst. And thus Gunny Meade's "extrapolation" always comes to mind, be it to glorify "The Old Corps" or to denigrate the Pre-AVF military.

    Thus, I say that sometimes one has to turn to the wisdom of that astute observer of the human condition, Mickey Gilly, accept the political reality and make the best of it.

  25. Andy: "Finally, regarding the quality of accessions, I think it's important to identify causes. Is a reduction in volunteer quality because of a current war people don't want to fight? Is it because of economic conditions? Is it because of a civil-military divide? Is it because people aren't exposed to the military and have no concept of it? Is it because there is no place to serve close to home? Etc. Unlike conscription, where accessions are centrally controlled, the success or failure of an AVF is dependent on a host of other factors and is inherently more volatile."

    All of the above. Results in the AVF both quality and quantity, as the Army found in 2005, are due to all the factors you cite and are indeed volatile.

    Pre-1973, conscription directly and indirectly ensured the desired numerical results in both quality and quantity as long as the manpower pool was not exhausted, as in WWII. Of course, one could validly state, from a purely technocratic and objective view, that conscription eliminates many if not all of those causes that limit the AVF.

    But since it's ultimately a political question, objectivity is not a decision making requirement.

    I don't claim to have the answer. Have just been trying to lay out objective facts for cogitation.

  26. So, I guess from the military staffing point of view, the (draft) operation was a success, but the patient died.

  27. Some more grist for the mill:

    I suspect that another difference between the early Seventies and today that would impact a return to conscription might be that I suspect that there has been a decrease in the number of infantrymen as a percentage of overall Army strength.

    The armies of the four "big" Twentieth Century wars (counting Korea as a "big war") were pretty infantry-heavy. Straight-leg infantry is both relatively quick to produce - relative to the technical specialties it needs less "stuff" so it's requirements are largely human - and quick to degrade - infantrymen tend to get killed or maimed a lot quicker than the support and service support branches.

    So conscription makes sense for a a big straight-leg infantry force as a way to keep warm bodies filling the infantry platoon slots without cannibalizing the rest of the Army.

    Since the Seventies I suspect - I don't have any actual MOS data to back this up, but just looking at the overall composition of the Army at the divisional level - that number of regular straight-leg 11B-type infantrymen has declined both in overall numbers and as a percentage of the Army makeup. Relative to the Seventies we have more mech infantry - which tends to have smaller squads and smaller boots-on-the-ground than the old J-series MTO&E did - and more light infantry and special operations-type units, which also tend to be smaller and lighter.

    Which is not to say that this is what we SHOULD have; IMO a big part of the Iraq fiasco (other than whole idiocy of "starting a land war in and occupation of a Middle Eastern country" thing) was the lack of warm bodies that forced the Army to run around putting out fires because it lacked a constabulary force to be in place everywhere...

    But that's the force we have, and IMO it's not as amenable to construction through conscription. Not that you couldn't do it, just that conscription isn't needed as much as it was for the earlier MTO&E...

  28. Chief-

    The original objective of the AVF was not to maintain a lower 11B population. The goal was to maintain the basic Cold War force, and Abrams moved a lot of CS/CSS into the USAR (hard to fiddle with the NG) as part of the "One Army" concept, as such RC units are more amenable to readiness than maneuver units. Also would make the AC more dependent on RC activation in the event of a significant operation. Rummy was able to use significant RC forces simply because they were not being used as maneuver formations, but sources of small unit manpower. The three NG maneuver brigades activated for Operation Desert Storm never made it overseas.

    More significantly, however, you are falling prey to the myth that the draft was solely to bring in 11Bs and that was not the case on my watch. Conscription brought in "entry level" troops of all mental categories. In our maintenance platoon in Viet Nam, we had a fair number of "higher mental category" draftees in high skill jobs, to include a BSEE in avionics who was doing depot level work on our bird's electronics, and extended his tour until his ETS because he was having such a good time.. We had three operations specialists via the draft that were brighter than half our officers. The draft was structured to bring in a representative sample of the general population, and did a fairly reasonable job of that.

    While the draft is politically dead, it is not because it did not or cannot meet manpower needs.

  29. Funny that since the end of the Cold War we have had such a muddled record in even defining why we even have a military or what is the strategically sound use for it, yet selecting methods of staffing it are a given. We fiddle faddle with "what ifs" and hypotheticals, but can be dead on about the hiring process?

  30. Hmm, muddled record for even needing a military?
    Not using enforced servitude as a hiring practice?

    Seems like a great place to be.

  31. Ael-

    Way back when, in our Strategy and Policy course, the prof offered that the military could serve four typical national interests:

    Defense of homeland
    Economic well being
    Favorable world order
    Promotion of values

    Three of those four basically involve nothing but "adventures" outside our borders". Three of those four effectively require reactive "offensive military operations" at the outset. Think "Iraq II". Every possible attempt was made to make it sound as if it were pure and simple "Defense of Homeland". Think "Iraq I", it took an offensive operation to restore Kuwait's sovereignty, as we weren't able to defend them in the first place.

    2 and 3 require the provision of defensive or "trip wire" forces throughout the world, either physically or by treaty (threat of a reaction force after the fact).

    Number 4 is as slippery as an eel. We promoted the "value" of democracy in several Muslim countries, and the "world order" is far from more favorable.

    We just can't figure out exactly what we want, or at least admit what it is we want. Probably because four three word statements of national interest addresses a complexity far beyond the grammatical construct of those simple phrases?

    You can't solve vast problems with half-vast solutions (gotta say it out loud, quickly)

  32. Al,

    I would reformulate that analysis:

    Defense of homeland
    Muddled reasons

    The fact that we are deep into the muddled reasons tells us that the homeland is fundamentally secure.

    Living in a secure place is nice.

  33. I get that conscription was used to fill any and every MOS the Army needed, Al; it's just that in the "big wars" what was usually needed most, and more often, were riflemen. So if you have fewer riflemen it stands to reason that barring another "big war" you'd have significantly lower chance of needing to conscript bodies to keep the MTO&E up tight...

    And re: your professor's four uses of military force:

    Defense of homeland - OK, yup, no-brainer...

    Economic well being - here's the first problem; whose well being?

    Let's say we use the USMC to intervene in Honduras in order to keep United Fruit's monopoly on produce intact (not that we'd ever do anything so unprincipled...) But let's say you're a California fruit grower. United Fruit is now using the USMC to undercut your prices and bankrupt you. Is the USMC acting in your economic well being?

    Favorable world order - Here again, cui bono? Assume that a "favorable world order" includes foreign governments willing to sign trade agreements allowing U.S. capital to flee overseas, purchase manufactories and labor that contribute to the desuetude of U.S. domestic industry and the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs (not that the U.S. government would ever act in such a manner contrary to the interested of so many of it's working citizens...).

    If you're a rivethead losing your job to a maquiladora in Tehuantepec that ain't a "favorable" world order to you. But if you're that rivethead's boss who is now making bank? That'd look mighty "favorable" to you...

    So I'd opine that these two aren't "muddled"; they're just strongly biased in favor of certain groups in the United States one way or the other, and that how favorable and well-being-ish the results of our military adventuring are to you is highly subjective.

    And "promotion of values" is, purely and simply, nonsense. You cannot "promote" values with a bullet. You can force them on someone - the religious wars of the 16th through the 18th Centuries should give us an idea how well THAT works. But short of killing them all and letting God sort them out "promoting values" only works if you're willing to occupy a place for centuries and force the occupied to bend to your will or either die or face brutal consequences. Even THAT's not a certainity; look at the bizarre patchwork of results that centuries of Ottoman occupation left behind in the Balkans...

  34. Forgive me for failing to mention that the prof was not touting these four as any form of "golden rule", virtue or something that "works", but merely categorizing the various "cover stories" that have been used for military operations over the ages, and in the main, they boil down to those four general categories.

    We are taking about belligerents here, and the reason they claim that violence is justified in pursuit of their alleged "national interests". These claims offered of various military adventures being in this "national interest" or that may be bullshit, dumbshit or whatever is a whole other discussion, and you can rest assured the prof stimulated those discussions in a manner similar to yours.

    As far as what MOSs need to be filled vs method of accessions, I'm not sure what you are getting at. During WWII, there was serious debate about terminating all volunteer enlistments, as they were skewing the distribution of the available labor pool both in desired branch of service as well as matching qualifications to jobs. Part of this was the "over-qualified" wanting to be rifle toting, bad guy killing grunts, rather than in high skilled, less glorious jobs, to include industrial production.

    It all boils down to how you staff a rather complex organization with an accessions method(s) that provides the mix of skills and abilities to get the job done. Add to that, internal competition between the Services for available talent. While the popular image of the Draft was as a big net that gathered up the helpless from the streets and arbitrarily assigned the catch to the infantry, that was not the intent or structure after WWI. (The fiascoes of both manpower and industrial mobilization during WWI deserve a web site of their own, and contributed significantly to the slow response of industry to WWII mobilization needs, both before and after Pearl Harbor).

    The AVF competes with every other employer (and unemployment) for personnel. Thus the massive personnel costs. Is there any other employer spending $22,000 per recruit, just to bring on untrained, unexperienced high school grads, as does the Army? Not to mention highly competitive wages and exceptional benefit packages. And, unlike industry, the additional “signing bonus” option that often tends to be needed for filling the least skill dependent positions that do not offer “career skills” in post service life. In short, it’s an aberrant labor market. But manning the military is a political, not a “best labor practices” issue.

    I repeat, I am not approaching this as an argument against the AVF, just trying to bust me some myths. However, I think my comments in response to Sven’s quoting the report of the Gates’ Commission give an insight to my stance that the AVF was never intended to produce a “superior” force, but simply a “different” one. Politically, Nixon made the AVF a done deal. Gates’ and Co were charged with justifying it and developing an implementation plan. That is clear from the very words announcing the formation of the Committee. Those of us in uniform were charged with carrying out that plan to the best of our abilities.

    Kinda in line with Jean Luc Picards’s, “Make it so, Number One”.

  35. Again, just pointing out that when you have a system that allows you to match your intake against your needs, what you need most in a high-intensity industrial war are largely combat arms troops; the wastage is just that high, and highest in the infantry platoons.

    So regardless of how you WANT to distribute your conscripts, in a high-intensity conflict you're going to need more riflemen than you would otherwise, and that is going to influence for good or ill how you handle your personnel intake...

  36. Chief- that is going to influence for good or ill how you handle your personnel intake...

    Reading Klein's work on WWII mobilization is quite informative on this issue. Few wanted to "stay on the farm", when they could either fight the Axis or make bigger bucks in war industry. Farm wages were depressed by price controls, labor saving machinery and repair parts in short supply due to raw materials being diverted to arms production, and by 1943, food was becoming in short supply. While farm worker were draft deferred, an effective mechanism to keep them from volunteering or seeking employment in war industry didn't exist. More than once, personnel planners tossed around the idea of ending voluntary enlistments to be able to conserve civilian labor from a quality, and regional standpoint, effectively making both civilian and military manpower programs a direct result of the Darft. Politically, this didn't fly, as it would appear as if service was totally "coercive" diminishing the "patriotic" aspect.

    Additionally, industrial workers had to be restrained from "job shopping", adding ammo to the anti-inflation argument for wage caps. The aircraft industry on the West Coast entered into informal agreements not to recruit from each other to stabilize the available labor market.

    For the military, the limits of the labor pool became a significant manpower management factor after D-Day, when replacements were needed for riflemen far in excess of for more highly skilled MOSs. (DUH?). Thus, many higher skill troops, trained in tech MOSs were sent to fill vacant infantry billets. By D-Day, accessions were for replacements based upon actual experience, not for forecast force structure growth. Thus, matching the accession to the job was not the same luxury it was earlier, and one example was Marshall's decision in Feb 1944 to release 120,000 men from the Army Specialized Training Program for employment in line units.

    Interestingly, in 1941, the Army acted as if it would have access to unlimited resources, both in manpower and materiel. Even as late as 1942, the War Dept was working on the assumption of over 200 divisions. After all, Germany had been able to mobilize almost 11% of their population, and the Army was only talking about 7.8%. What the War Dept had not yet come to grips with was that the US was the agricultural and industrial engine for all the Allies, and that alone would constrain uniformed military strength.