Military / Politics · August 4, 2006

Military Enlistment? The Answer is “42”

How is our military doing these days? I’ve just been musing over some of the problems that the military is having with retaining members.

Roger Hedgecock, Newsradio 600 KOGO interviewed Secretary Rumsfeld in June 2004:

Q: Under any circumstances, Mr. Secretary, would a draft be necessary in the future, as you contemplate it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I can’t imagine it. I just can’t imagine it. There are people who can argue that a draft is a good thing because it gives everyone a chance to serve and understand the military and national service. Although it really never did, it never drafted women, only men, and it exempted people who were in school and people who were married and people who were teaching and a whole lot of exemptions they had. But in terms of the need of the services, goodness no, we’re perfectly capable of increasing the incentives and the inducements to attract people into the armed services.

As a matter of fact, despite all the talk about the stress on the force, today we still are having very good results with respect to recruiting and retention. And we do not have a problem of attracting and retaining the people we need in the military. And if we ever did get to that point we should, in my view, do exactly what you do in the private sector and that’s increase the pay and increase the incentives and the inducements, so that you can have the kind of skills and the numbers of people you need to help defend our country. We’re very fortunate to have so many people raise their hand and say, “I want to volunteer to go in the United States Armed Forces,” and they say, “send me” and God bless them for it.

Leaving aside, for now, the demonstrable unfairness of the draft

Fewer people were raising their hands to volunteer in the military. Perhaps because of qualms that young people and those who influence them have with the current ‘War on Terror.’ To make up for the lack of volunteers President Bush had to invoke the “Stop Loss Policy” in order to slow down the flood of people leaving the military.

From Louisville, Kentucky; Soldier, mother fight Army’s ‘stop loss’ rule:

The [Stop Loss] policy states that enlisted soldiers can’t leave on their service-expiration dates if they fall within 90 days of a deployment order. Soldiers must complete the deployment and then can be required to stay with the Army an additional 90 days, said Army spokesman Sheldon Smith.


About 12,000 active-duty troops, reservists and National Guardsmen are serving beyond their enlistment dates now, and a total of 80,000 have done so since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Smith said in a statement.

If you’re interested, you can read the actual law for the Stop Loss policy. It’s called, Authority of President to suspend certain laws relating to promotion, retirement, and separation.

It’s pretty easy to see that attrition leads to shortages which must be made up. Last year, the Army had an enlistment shortfall, and tried to make up for it by lowering its standards. I pointed out how badly Army standards have fallen back in January.

The alarming lack of volunteers has led people to believe that a draft is immenent. Even as far back as January 2005, the Rolling Stone had this to say about a possible draft:

The Pentagon, which can barely attract enough recruits to maintain current troop levels, has involuntarily extended the enlistments of as many as 100,000 soldiers. Desperate for troops, the Army has lowered its standards to let in twenty-five percent more high school dropouts, and the Marines are now offering as much as $30,000 to anyone who re-enlists. To understand the scope of the crisis, consider this: The United States is pouring nearly as much money into incentives for new recruits — almost $300 million — as it is into international tsunami relief.

Well, perhaps Mr. Rumsfeld is right, no draft is needed. We’ll just do like any American business would do and offer more incentives to join. The Defense Department is trying to keep it low key, but this was reported in the July 2006 issue of the Army Times:

Uncle Sam wants you – even if you’re 42 years old

The Defense Department quietly asked Congress on Monday to raise the maximum age for military recruits to 42 for all branches of the service.

The Pentagon’s request to raise the maximum recruit age to 42 is part of what defense officials are calling a package of “urgent wartime support initiatives” sent to Congress Monday night prior to a Tuesday hearing of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee.

From the Army Times article, other support incentives in this package include:

  • Raising the maximum re-enlistment bonus to $90,000
  • Maximum hardship duty pay to $750 a month
  • Special pay and incentive bonuses for nuclear qualified officers to $30,000
  • Increasing assignment incentive pay to $3,000
  • Increasing accession and affiliation bonuses for reservists
  • $2,500 Army only referral bonus paid to current soldiers if they get someone to enter the Army and make it through basic and advanced training
  • Army Home Ownership program to set aside money for new recruits that could be used to buy a home at the end of an enlistment, in order to convince “adult influencers” of service-age youths about the benefits of joining the military.

Rumsfeld is right, of course. If you throw in enough incentives, people WILL voluntarily enlist in the military. He’s right that the private sector attracts employees through pay and incentives. There is a ‘supply and demand’ of jobs.

There are a few flaws in Rumsfeld’s arguments. First, it requires a lot of incentives to overcome the fear of coming home minus a limb, or in a box. Second, as the private sector has found, even when you get sufficient numbers of applicants, it is still an order of magnitude more difficult to get sufficient applicants who are qualified for the job. And last, some private sector businesses go bankrupt due to excessive payroll costs.

No matter how rosy of a picture that Bush and his advisors paint, things just are not that good for our brave Military members these days. My heart goes out to them.