Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=80625
Story Retrieval Date: 5/26/2013 12:46:30 AM CST
WASHINGTON -- As wars continue in Iraq and Afghanistan, the all-volunteer military in the U.S. not only has struggled to hold on to its soldiers and marines, but also has had difficulties meeting its recruiting goals for the past two years. Nearly 35 years without a draft, some wonder if countries with required military service are better off.
Since the recruiting environment has become even more challenging, recruiters have to spend more time with applicants and their families discussing the potential risk involved.
The Army has had to lower its recruiting standards; 79 percent of recruits had a high school diploma in fiscal 2007 as opposed to the 90 percent goal set by the Defense Department. More soldiers and Marines are also being redeployed and for longer periods at a time.
There are trade-offs between a volunteer force and a mandated force. And although several differences exist, the morale of the force may be the most striking.
“We think that a volunteer force is a better force than a drafted force because you’re starting off with people in your organization who chose to be in the organization rather than being forced to be in it,” said Douglas Smith, public affairs officer with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
Smith also said the Army can hold on to soldiers longer in a volunteer setting, which contributes to high morale. “You’re not rotating a constants treat of people in and out of the Army,” he said.
Katie Forney, 23, a recent college graduate now training in Quantico, Va., to be a Marine Corps officer, said she thought the quality of the Army and Marine Corps suffered during the draft because people who didn’t want to be there were forced to serve.
“It’s very hard for someone to put one hundred percent effort into something that they don’t support and are terrified to do to begin with,” she said.
In most countries that require military service, such as Singapore, males must serve for two years when they turn 18. Nick Po, a 23-year-old Singapore citizen and now a student at University of Southern California, served for two years in the military and wasn’t keen on the idea of being required to participate in the military.
Po served on exercises with American troops and said the difference between the soldiers who wanted to be there and who had to be there was noticeable.
“People who actually choose the military as the way to make their living, they’re definitely more enthusiastic and they take it more seriously because it’s like work,” Po said.
But an all-volunteer force also has to take more considerations into account to make the lifestyle attractive – everything from housing conditions to educational benefits to competitive wages. And each area has to be reevaluated on a fairly frequent basis, Smith said.
“We had to do a little bit more than give people a place to sleep and three meals. We had to start thinking about the quality of life,” Smith said.
However, Po recognized that an all-volunteer force wouldn’t work in Singapore. Had he been given the opportunity, he would have preferred serving as a fire fighter or a police officer because of better pay and less physical demand of the jobs.
“That was what the main thing to do with all our time - just complain about how bad it was and we’d just be, like, ‘Oh my God. I hate the Army. I could be doing so much more with my life,’” Po said. “I don’t think a lot of people view the Army as a career opportunity, or sort of like a way of life or whatever, so I think the fact that it’s mandatory is the only reason Singapore has an army,” he said.
Po eventually adjusted to the disciplined lifestyle and said he sometimes even misses it. He will return to Singapore for the required one month out of the year for the next eight years to serve.
“There’s much more of a collective sentiment that goes on in an army. There’s a camaraderie because you’re going through this entire ordeal with a group of people and everyone is treated the same,” he said. “I think it’s just sort of become an accepted way of life and people don’t view it as having any direct influence on, you know, how patriotic or unpatriotic people in Singapore are.”
Forney, on the other hand, said she joined to work for and protect the freedom of Americans. “There is someone out there who is working daily and risking their lives so you can have that freedom,” she said. “For those people who don’t want to join, then don’t. There are enough people out there that do, so please don’t join and cut down the morale and waste our time.”