40th Anniversary of the All Volunteer Force

Esli reminded me that today marks the 40th anniversary of the All Volunteer Force. To the best of my knowledge, there remain no more draftees on active duty.*

The initial efforts of the AVF were shaky at best. Hot on the heels of the unpopular Vietnam War, and with pay, benefits and infrastructure such as barracks and housing ill funded, finding quality recruits for the Army (and the other branches) was challenging, and standards slipped to levels the even the dark days of 2005 would call appalling. The vast majority of enlistees were decent, honorable folks trying to do their best, but there were enough miscreants in the force to badly damage the entire service. Drug use and alcohol abuse were rampant, discipline was sometimes less  than we might hope for, and the lack of funds for training and maintenance led to a hollow force.

It wasn’t until the very end of the Carter Administration that pay for soldiers began to be increased to something approaching a living wage, and of course, the boom years of the Reagan buildup lead to the once reviled Armed Forces quickly becoming the most trusted institution in America.

The AVF has not been without its challenges and critics since then. For one thing, there’s a perception that it is disconnected from the American people, and that the political class have little worry that their sons and daughters will be the ones called to sally forth into battle.

For another thing, an AVF is expensive. The single largest cost for the armed services is personnel. Salary, housing, health care, care for family members, and retirement costs, and health care costs for retirees (and their families), the very things that make a career in the service attractive, also drive much of the costs of our Department of Defense.

There is simply no popular support for a draft, so that leaves three choices for manning the services.

1. Pay the cost. It’s expensive, but it also has provided a stunningly capable military.

2. Freeze the costs, which will make service much less attractive. To maintain anything approaching our current end strength, this would require lowering standards, a proposition virtually every military professional is loathe to consider.

3. Pay the cost, but to a much, much smaller force. Numerically, for the size of our population, we don’t have a historically large armed forces. But it is an incredibly capable one. A willingness to accept a certain level of strategic risk could mean acceptance of a significantly smaller armed forces. But the problem with strategic risk is, that risk or a similar one almost always comes to pass.

At any event, it is highly likely that for the foreseeable future, the force will continue to be all volunteer.

*Obviously, the term of their conscription ended long ago, but a surprising number of draftees made careers of the Army.



6 responses to “40th Anniversary of the All Volunteer Force

  1. The strategic risk is very, very high if you do not maintain an adequate force. If we find ourselves in a confrontation with a near peer force we will no longer be able to build as we did in previous wars. The oceans don’t act as a barrier quite so much as they did with the last war, which we were woefully unprepared for.

    I’d bet a dollar to a donut we aren’t ready now. The services have become so PC they have been essentially hollowed. We took Iraq, and made the initial foray into Afghanistan with little problem because we faced nothing like a near peer. When (and it’s just a matter of time) we face such an opponent, we are very likely to lose the war in the opening hours, or, at most, days.


    • M1A1TrkTrror

      Red Dawn fantasy scenarios aside, the oceans are still a pretty formidable barrier to invasion. The majority of everything still travels by sea, and there isn’t another way for China, Russia, or anyone else to get an armored division over here that doesn’t involve floating it across the ocean.

      The oceans aren’t much of a barrier to small groups of people coming over and carrying out attacks of sabotage or terror, but that’s a damn sight different than having a T-80 parked on American soil.


  2. TheMightyQ

    I think that there are a number of ways to reduce personnel costs that are not being considered that could have an impact. A number of benefits can be reduced without any significant impact on the force structure writ large. For instance: 1. Ensure that any retired military personnel employed by the U.S. government, or by a company that is fulfilling a government contract, cannot receive his or her retirement pay. 2. Ensure that current and retired military personnel pay more into their health care plans. 3. Get rid of commissaries on CONUS installations. These are just 3 examples off the top of my head. The problem is that no Congressman will ever publicly take on MOAA, RMOA, etc. for fear of being branded anti-military. Reducing some benefits could save billions, but those with the paystrings lack the political will to do so.


  3. Esli

    No retirement pay if you take a follow-on government job? Asinine at best. Sorry, the 24 years of service I have put in, so far, have more than earned my retirement pay, regardless of what job I take after I retire. I can’t think of a better way to keep retired military out of any area where they could positively impact the military after they retired. There are a whole lot of retirees with skills accrued through a lifetime of service that the military needs to pass along. Pay more for the healthcare that, since 1986, I have been told I would be guaranteed, free, for life? I already will be paying a lot more than “free” when I retire, but I am reluctantly willing to do what I have to, including pay more, in order to avoid “affordable health care….” However, there better be a commensurate reduction in the sponging of the government that is rampant by those that have contributed almost nothing to society, and now take all they can. Get rid of commissaries? Could probably live with it, but would prefer not to. Marginal savings, but worth looking at.


    • TheMightyQ

      I should have been more specific. No military retirement pay WHILE working a follow-on gov’t job. Retirement pay would resume after one is fully retired from government service, or from the company that is contracted to do government work. Why should anyone double-tap the taxpayer? Separately, my suggestion would remove some incentive for GOFOs to go get a sweet gig for Lockheed-Martin or other such company just to bilk the taxpayer out of more money. I can only hope that such a law would keep those retired folks out of the military industrial complex. Additionally, you have no more earned your retirement pay than anyone who works 24 hard years as a construction worker, or auto mechanic, or electrical engineer, or nurse, etc. We in the military are not special, and our calling is not higher.

      As far as health care goes, the government can start charging more with my year group and below, as far as I’m concerned. I’m merely suggesting ways to reduce costs. Everything must be on the table. At least we’re not getting furloughed like most DOD employees. That could have happened.


    • Esli

      I don’t claim to have earned my retirement any more than anyone else, but I certainly have earned it, in spades, and expect it to be there.
      On the other hand, I consider any benefits that I am entitled to as being eligible for cuts/adjustments, after careful and due consideration is made and then made across the board. The choice is not IRS line dancing or retirement benefits. And, I do believe that these should be phased in. Year groups are an appropriate way of doing so. I have a big fear of continuing to serve well past my retirement eligibility date, only to find the retirement benefits rug yanked out from under me because I happen to enjoy my job and am still doing pretty well. I don’t intend to jump ship like many are, but I don’t want to get punked as a result of it. I still don’t agree with the idea of taking retirement pay from someone while they are contracting, but I do agree there should be controls of some sort on the big dollars. Not sure what that is, though.