Americans Stepping Up — Part II

The All-Volunteer Force

In 1968, President Richard Nixon created a commission to advise him on setting up an all-volunteer force (AVF).  Referred to as the Gates Commission, its members considered manpower issues, logistics matters, attrition, retention, and long-term pensions and benefits accorded to careerists.  They also had to evaluate combat effectiveness, combat sustainability, and the kind of individual that would make an ideal candidate for volunteer military service.  It was an enormous task because the questions demanded in-depth research across a wide range of disciplines: economics, psychology, sociology, and legality.  Some of the critical elements in deciding whether to proceed were budgetary because if the government wanted to create an AVF, then it would have to offer bonuses to enlist and reenlist, higher pay tables, and improved benefits

The new AVF became law in 1971 when President Nixon ended the draft and reduced the role of the Selective Service System to one of the pre-emergency registration programs.  These changes became effective in 1973.  Current law requires that all male citizens between the ages of 18-25 register with the SSS.  In the event of a national emergency, and if authorized by Congress and the President, registered individuals could be rapidly called up for military service.  At the same time, the government could compel individuals claiming conscientious objection to war for service in alternative (non-military) services to the country.

AVF Mixed Results

Since the implementation of the AVF, the active-duty force has become younger.  Forty-nine percent of active-duty personnel are between the ages of 17-24.  Today, 15% of the active-duty enlisted force is female (compared to only 2% of the force during the draft years), and 16% of the commissioned ranks are female.

Unlike the draft years, where only 42% of the forces were high school graduates, 92% of today’s service members graduated from high school.  Among officers, 95% graduated from a four-year college or university, and 38% hold advanced degrees.

The AVF also created a more extensive “career force,” which means the number of married military personnel has increased.  Again, 49% of the enlisted force structure is married, and 68% of the commissioned officer structure is married.  These statistics significantly increase the government’s annual military manpower expenditures.

Most volunteers come from lower-to-middle class families.  For the most part, upper-class people have no interest in serving their country.  Racially, black Americans are over-represented in the AVF, presumably because these individuals have the most to gain from military service.  America’s minorities generally do not benefit from public education, whereas the military provides valuable vocational training that enhances their post-military service employment opportunities.  Conversely, Hispanics are under-represented in the AVF, possibly due to issues relating to immigration status.

The problems

The strength of effectiveness of the AVF relies on quality leadership.  Many will argue that Americans aren’t getting quality leadership in 2022, beginning with the Commander-in-Chief and filtering down through department and service secretaries and the senior-most positions of the various military services.  In essence, the problems include:

  • Persistent allegations that rather than focusing on combat readiness and effectiveness, the policies of top leaders (both civilian and military) place greater emphasis on social engineering and widespread social justice activism.
  • Americans are wary of protracted conflicts where there is no apparent national interest.
  • After training young men and women to fight, government officials are too quick to prosecute them for war crimes in conflict areas where the enemy dresses in civilian clothing and hide behind their women and children.
  • Rules of engagement seek more to protect enemy aliens than they do the safety and security of US combat forces.
  • US policies (such as the application of politically correct mandates) prevent rather than encourage battlefield victories.
  • Protracted conflicts obligate service-members to two or more combat tours within the period of their three or four-year enlistments.
  • Military personnel, particularly those from the lower enlisted ranks to the middle commissioned ranks, have lost confidence in their military leaders and no longer trust them to keep faith with those who work in the trenches, at home or abroad.  As one example, the downsizing of the military increases the operational tempo of those who remain in uniform.  Many feel that the service chiefs sacrifice the welfare of the troops for their own advancements — that the senior flag officers aren’t speaking clearly or powerfully enough to civilian leaders, who haven’t a clue about military service or operations.
  • While the government relinquishes military equipment to the enemy (Afghanistan), the military’s operational equipment is inadequate to their assigned missions.  Cuts in recruitment and training endanger the front-line forces; the troops are working harder, with less, and senior leaders concentrate more on making Congress happy than they do in maintaining combat-ready troops.


American military volunteers have stepped up to the plate in defense of their homeland.  Throughout all our history, despite the piffle in some quarters about America’s greatest generation, today’s young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are second-to-none in categories of military service prominence.  And yet, morale within all the services is at an all-time low.

While most of the military’s large budget goes toward cost overruns and armament industry profits for producing second-rate weapons systems, large segments of our front line troops are required to attend racial sensitivity training (a re-hash of the old Human Relations Training discarded in the mid-1970s), and they are fed up with being called racists or misogynists.

Meanwhile, promotion for white soldiers has been placed on hold until the army adjusts the racial or gender balances.  People who warrant promotion based on merit are denied promotion because of the government’s policy of reverse discrimination.  It’s purely and simply reverse racism with the accompanying danger of “volunteer forces,” leaving the military drastically unprepared as they take their discharges at the end of their enlistments. Suppose that happens, and there is every indication that it is happening. How does the Biden government intend to address the problematic aggressive behaviors of America’s most likely enemies, China, Russia, and Iran?  Without an AVF, Biden will likely have to arm himself and fight any subsequent battles alone.

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

12 thoughts on “Americans Stepping Up — Part II”

  1. Great work. My career spanned the transition from the Conscription Driven Force to the All Volunteer Force. My perspective was from the enlisted Fleet Marine Force, grunts, through commissioning in the Carter Administration and through two recruiting tours in the 1980’s and mid 1990’s. The perspective from the recruiting arena was most enlightening. We in the Marine Corps struggled to come up with a long term operational definition of ‘quality’ and tended to focus on that which was easy to measure on the front end rather than the more difficult long term performance results of our recruits. I learned from someone outside of the system how to actually define and measure quality as a statistical process control problem, my Pop, who was a real Total Quality Guru post WWII. That ‘outside’ coaching helped me tackle the mission oriented direction of the recruiting service. The question went from the arbitrary categories: Mental Group; Education Codes; physical attributes to longer term performance attributes: short term attrition and long term attrition. My bottom line shifted from how shiny Johnny was on input to will Johnny ship to boot camp and if he does will he graduate from MCRD.

    That philosophy put me at odds with my higher ups during most of my 8 year experience on Recruiting Duty. You cannot argue with success (most of the time) even if you don’t like the path to success (most of the time) especially when you don’t understand or are afraid the implications of that path to success.

    DoD in general fails to and has failed to define ‘quality’ in the long term. Who makes a four year enlistment and who does not and why. What are the attributes. After experiencing the process from both output end as a company commander, multiple tours, punctuated by multiple tours as Recruiting Station Ops O, XO and CO (twice) I came away understanding that our input to the quality algorithm was fundamentally flawed because we ignored the longer term problem of long term retention and performance. We still do. I am convinced we do not see those critical attributes because we don’t want to struggle with the math and we don’t want to be forced to defend a stand on the most vexing problem facing our society: the break down of the nuclear family.

    Long term and stressful deployments taught me that the seed bed generating that young rifleman was critical to his success over the long term. Young men who grow up in a solid nuclear or extended multi-generational family ‘make it” and those who did not have that healthy seed bed are at risk sans deeply involved, attentive and positive leadership. You cannot drop kick a kid through a four year enlistment. You lead them. That is the hard stuff, the painful stuff.

    My experience now of watching the output, twenty years now of war and deployments with young people, better than half coming from troubled family back grounds and returning to CONUS with no stable and healthy family to welcome them home has shown the real problem. The family is the foundation of our culture, our communities and our Republic. Ignore that fundamental fact and all of your math returns zilch.

    Now, maggot, shut your pie hole and drive production. “Aye, aye, Sirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate your input to this discussion.

      I applaud the Marines for having created the wounded-warrior regiment but bemoan the fact that the Corps did not establish a similar process for decompression at the end of combat tours, or at least as part of the EAS process. The final section of Bing West’s book, One million steps: A Marine Platoon at War justifies such an effort, not to mention the (seemingly) lack of attention to TBI cases (which, as I understand it, is being shucked off as “pre-service personality disorder). If it is true, it is an appalling behavior from within an organization that emphasizes leadership up and down. And of course, when added to “troubled family backgrounds,” does nothing to enhance our reputation of “taking care of our Marines.” We can do better, and should, but I’ve seen no evidence that any of this is getting the Commandant’s attention.

      Let me add that the more we promote senior officers to flag rank who lack direct combat experience, the worse the foregoing situation becomes. The political generals haven’t a clue but now let me say where I think this is going: a female who has never commanded a line company in combat, or a battalion, will one day assume command a combat division … and that will become a disaster of epic proportions.

      PS. You may be interested in visiting Col. Jim Bathurt’s blog ( You may even know him, as he had a couple recruiting tours, as well.

      Semper Fi

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t know. In my 28 years, mostly in Reserves and Guard, never saw much of the “social engineering” aspect. We had to wear those silly red ribbons as part of the “say no to drugs” campaign in the early 1990’s. But, that was it. As far as low morale, again, everywhere I was the morale was generally good – so long as we had a decent commander. And almost always, we had excellent commanders. I recall folks asking in the 80’s and 90’s if “this” generation would step up like the WW II generation. Indeed they did. In the 2000’s, despite two wars, which IMO were run pretty poorly, the kids kept volunteering. I really doubted the recruiting would keep up with the demand. In the Army, the recruiting failed to meet goals once or twice, but the numbers were still close. As I recall, the Marines always met their recruiting goals. I commanded a DS battalion in the mid-2000’s and was thrilled to see these kids stepping up. They seemed to be more overweight than what we had in the 80’s, but they still had that drive, that desire to serve. I ran into more folks across the mid-2000’s who joined because of 9/11. They were the best soldiers. Just outstanding. It was a real honor to serve with them.

    As far as white soldiers being held back from promotion, never saw anything like that. Did some minority soldiers or officers get an extra push? I can point to two clear examples where something like that almost certainly occurred. The worst E7 I ever encountered worked for me briefly – in a war zone no less. She had no clue about her job duties or responsibilities or basic troop leading procedures. She happened to be minority. But, clearly, her getting to E7 meant one or more officers and NCO’s in her past failed her miserably. We have a responsibility up and down the chain of command to counsel those poor performers and get them out, if they cannot perform. Sometimes that means we as leaders need to take care in how we say things.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In my experience, the percentage of “disappointing” troops was never more than around 10% … and probably on average half that. Our troops respond to leadership, good and bad. It’s the same with officers, except that when you encounter a bad officer, the impact of their poor leadership has far-reaching consequences … too many, in fact, for a blog conversation.

      The social engineering I’m talking about (a recent phenomenon) includes opening up the combat arms to females (the justification for not doing this far outweighs any other considerations), woke culture, opening enlistments and commissions to gender-confused individuals, race-based advancements (which I only recently read about), and more recently, cramming critical race theory down the throats of people whose professional behavior never once suggested racial bias.

      The U.S. military is a mission-centered organization. Mission: combat readiness. There simply is no room in this structure for any policy or program that risks the ability of our armed forces to respond to foreign threats. I expect our most-senior officers to emphasize that message to the civilian leadership; I expect these senior officers to “refuse” to obey an irresponsible directive, no matter where it originates, rather than rolling over to fulfill a career ambition.

      Thanks for weighing in, Tom. I’m glad you had a fulfilling career. I certainly did — in the last century. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I saw the trouble coming down the road at the beginning of the first Gulf War. Reservists were called to active duty and quite a few of them were bellyaching because they actually had to do what they signed up to do.

    To paraphrase some nameless attribution; Shut the hell up! “You takes the money and you takes your chances! “. And then we have the specter of physical standards being reduced to include female recruits in combat roles.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yes, the good old days when we only had to contend with lazy people rather than transgender mokes who require a constant infusion of hormones to get out of bed in the morning — and are never deployable. As Bob Hope might say, “Thanks for the memories.”

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This: “Racially, black Americans are over-represented in the AVF, presumably because these individuals have the most to gain from military service. America’s minorities generally do not benefit from public education, whereas the military provides valuable vocational training that enhances their post-military service employment opportunities. Conversely, Hispanics are under-represented in the AVF, possibly due to issues relating to immigration status.

    I would love for MLM to read this and any person of so-called color. (we are all colored, just some of us have less melatonin, and white is a color but this is sidebar and chaps my hide)

    And this:
    Meanwhile, promotion for white soldiers have been placed on hold until the army adjusts the racial or gender balances. People who warrant promotion based on merit are denied promotion because of the government’s policy of reverse discrimination.

    REVERSE DISCRIMINATION! YES! I thought I was the only one noticing this in all aspects of society. I always knew as my husband is an Army Vet and he is Puerto Rican born in Chicago as I was that they were unfair in many ways in the military. I do not deny that for many years white people outnumbered and outranked many of other colors and ethnicity. However, today it is not your character or merit that is rewarded or your rank, it is your color or nationality. I realize I am oversimplifying a complicated matter but I loathe prejudice and the only privilege anyone has is the privilege they EARNED. Color does not cut it. Period!

    Thank you for great Part 11. As you can see I am thoroughly loving this series Mustang.

    Semper fi

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Layla. So, next week, on to something else.

      For many years, we Americans struggled against the racism passed down to us by our parents, and theirs. Most of us “got there.” Some of us didn’t … some of us never will. And then Barack Obama came along and suddenly, we were back to the mid-’50s.

      Today, it’s a new kind of racial bias. It seems that it is the racial minorities that can’t get past skin color. We’ll weather this too, in time.

      But as to the military, I don’t know anyone who ever served in a combat unit that harbored racial bias (for long) … because there is, in small combat units, out of necessity for survival, a bonding process so unique that it doesn’t allow any room for B.S. You read the award citations for those who have earned the Medal of Honor, and you find yourself astonished by such raw courage and selflessness … and then you realize that such behavior under dire conditions doesn’t recognize skin color, which is only right. “Greater love hath no man than this …”

      We don’t need CRT in the military. There’s no room for that hogwash. What we need in the military is quality leadership, which I think we have with only minor exceptions. What I just wrote is what our most-senior officers should be saying to the civilian leadership. The problem is that too many of our “most senior” officers have their noses so far up the civilian leadership’s ass that they don’t even know what’s going on within our combat units. They’ve never served in one.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I forgot to mention I am looking forward to reading what you come up with for next week! I am becoming addicted to both of your cites! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Haha! Sorry for the off-topic in advance. I have another survey going that I am sure will interest you. Pass the word if you so choose or not choose. It will be up for one week and then I will share the results. It’s a rather different survey than what you may be expecting!

    Sempre fi

    Liked by 2 people

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