View Full Version : Will the All-Volunteer Force Collapse?

08-29-03, 05:41 AM

Will the All-Volunteer Force Collapse?

By William F. Sauerwein

Currently, the United States has over 362,000 troops deployed in over 120 countries. Almost one-third of these troops are from the reserve components, highlighting the strain on our overall military manpower from operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Of particular importance, 22,000 of these deployed troops are in the “stop-loss” category, meaning they are still required to serve even though their terms of enlistment (ETS) have expired.

In the all-volunteer force, these troops cannot remain deployed indefinitely, or they will seek new, civilian employment at the earliest opportunity. So how do we meet the manpower requirements of our global missions without sacrificing our strategic posture?

Military planners have long understood that personnel costs are the most expensive accounts for the armed forces. These costs include training, equipping, feeding, housing and providing health care for military personnel. It also includes quality of life benefits for military members and their families, important issues for recruiting and retaining quality personnel.

As highlighted in past articles, the military is hard-pressed to fulfill all of its missions. This is particularly difficult for the Army, which bore the brunt of manpower reductions during the 1990s.

While our troops suffer, the Pentagon and the Congress continue bickering over proposed solutions. Congress wants an increase in active-duty strength, and a reduction in reliance on reservists – without increasing overall defense spending. On the other hand, the Pentagon does not want to increase active-duty strength at the expense of “transformation” and other priorities.

However, the missions must be performed, meaning troops must be deployed, and money spent on moving them and their equipment. But deployed troops must be replaced periodically, or they will become combat ineffective, requiring the further expenditure of money for catch-up training. With no increase in active-duty strength, Congress and the DoD must find a solution within existing conditions.

Assuming existing budget levels will not rise, the Pentagon has floated some plans to alleviate its personnel problems. First is increasing the number of “trigger pullers” by transferring some of the non-combat duties that soldiers currently perform to civilian jobs. On the surface, this seems a logical solution, especially at the Pentagon, and other CONUS installations.

However, that option may have unintended negative consequences.

I have worked with many Army civilian employees and found the majority of them to be dedicated employees. Many are retirees, veterans or family members of military personnel, with a personal stake in the “system.” However, I believe some of the Pentagon’s current problems come from a pre-existing over-reliance on civilian “experts,” many with no personal military experience.

Writing in The Army Times on June 23, Steven Forsberg asked, “What Are Some of the Military Jobs that can be Performed by Civilians?” His column highlighted the disadvantages. First, military personnel represent a highly flexible work force, not subject to union restrictions. They can be sent anywhere on very short notice, under any conditions and perform various tasks.

Second, and perhaps most important, military support troops are members of the “brotherhood of arms,” Forsberg continued. They are members of the “team,” and share the common values and lifestyle of their combat arms brethren. Furthermore, these support troops are responsible for providing their own security, and engaging enemy forces. Suppose the 507th Maintenance Co. ambushed at An Nasiriyah had been composed of unarmed civilians, or still worse, armed civilians not covered under the Geneva Convention?

The Army has always needed about a seven-to-one ratio of support to combat troops. When Army leaders have tried reducing that ratio in the past, the support quality has suffered. Forsberg points out that our combat arms perform better because of the dedication of our support troops. Furthermore, support troops slice work better when they train and fight with the “trigger pullers” they support.

Another plan currently used by the Pentagon places increased reliance on National Guard and Reserve units. While appearing good on paper, this too has some unintended consequences. The past decade has seen the Guard and Reserves worked as hard as the regulars. Many personnel have complained in past DefenseWatch issues of being used as “substitutes” on missions of questionable military value.

One of the best ideas for using the Guard and Reserves came following the Vietnam War. This also helped reduce the “tooth to tail” ratio by removing some MOS’s from the Regular Army. On CONUS installations, civilian personnel (facilities engineers, postal workers and the like) performed most of these specialized tasks. During deployments – whether training or operational – Guard and Reserve units stepped in to provide much of this specialized support.

One basic premise Army structure that proved fatally flawed during Operation Desert Storm was the “roundout” concept of the 1980s that had been developed as a compromise between military-spending cutters in Congress and the Reagan administration. This concept purposely kept an active-duty division at two-thirds strength, with a Guard brigade assigned to fill out the TOE in event of a major conflict.

The idea did not work well for a variety of reasons, mostly because of inherent differences between the active and reserve components. Following Desert Storm, the Army began phasing out the “roundout” system only to have the Clinton administration reimpose it as part of the Democrats’ plan to slash Army end-strength by 40 percent.

After a decade of force cuts and accelerated operational tempo (optempo) under the Clinton administration, followed by the post-9/11 mobilizations for war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the reserve components are showing signs of severe strain.

In response, lawmakers have urged a reduction in the Pentagon’s dependence on Guard and Reserve units, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has agreed with that some of the support MOS’s should be transferred back to the active force. But Rumsfeld does not anticipate any increase in active duty strength to compensate for this proposal, setting the stage for more stresses on units and individual personnel.

These are the pressures that the Army is confronting even as it continues to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq, deter war in Korea and perform various other missions. From what I gather from some of my sources, the conditions are equally bad in the other services. Unfortunately our elected leaders appear to have placed their own political agendas ahead of national security.

The manpower crunch is expected to continue, as the war against terrorism remains an open-ended commitment. We are also expected to remain in Iraq “as long as needed,” and the peace is proving to be more difficult than the war. Our other military commitments that have gone on for many years – primarily the defense of South Korea – are not expected to end soon.

These deployments will continue putting a strain on our military forces and their families. Both the Pentagon and the Congress must realize that the situation has deteriorated to a point that something must be done quickly if we are to avoid a collapse of the all-volunteer military by a mass exodus of the troops.

William F. Sauerwein is a Contributing Editor to DefenseWatch. He can be reached at mono@gtec.com.