The Personnel Retention Crisis: What Standards Make Good
Soldiers? ... and ... Should We Bring Back the Draft?

February 17, 1999

Comment: #239

Discussion Thread:  #238


[1] Col. Mark Pizzo USMC, "Should We Bring Back the Draft?," (Pre-publication draft), Faculty, National War College. Attached.

[2] Email from a Retired Lt Col, U.S. Army, "Is the Army Better Off Today than 20 Years Ago?"  Attached.

In Comment #238, I suggested that reducing standards was a form of bribing soldiers to join or stay in the military. The particular standard in question was the high school diploma and the Army's suggestion that it might be time to reduce the stringency of that standard.

Col. Mark Pizzo responds to that commentary in Reference 1. He argues that this particular standard may be a poor indicator of what makes a good soldier, particularly if he is trained by enlightened leaders. He builds on this to argue for a reinstatement of the draft.

While I am ambivalent on the subject of the draft, I think Pizzo is on to something. I remember when kids got into trouble in the 50s and early 60s, judges sometimes gave them the choice of jail or the military. Many of these kids had their lives turned around by the leadership Pizzo so eloquently describes—and they made fine soldiers, went on to school after the military, and became productive citizens. Reference #2 lends additional support to Pizzo's arguments about H.S. diplomas and the draft. It is an email from a retired Army officer who commanded an artillery battery 20 years ago. He describes how troublemakers with a third-grade level education made good soldiers when properly led.

The motivation to reduce standards is a typical bureaucratic/milcratic accommodation to problems. While Pizzo raises a very interesting commentary on this particular standard—one that is grounded on valuing the individual, I don't think we want to lose sight of WHY the Army wants to reduce this particular standard. Mangers see it as an expediency to meet a recruiting problem, not because they believe the standard is flawed—and in contrast to Pizzo's argument, this is precisely the kind motivation that is found in a system that devalues the worth of individuals—which is why we have the retention problem in the first place, not to mention Armed Forces Day posters that forget to include people [see Comment # 237].

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 1:

Pre-publication draft "Should We Bring Back the Draft?"
Col. Mark Pizzo
USMC Faculty,
National War College

[The views expressed below are those of the author and do not reflect and official position of the National War College, the Marine Corps, or the Department of Defense.]

I am a strong believer that it is time to bring back the draft/national service. The immediate argument in opposition references the problems of the 70's. I contend we must look at what the draft did prior to the 70s. I want to write an article with the following main points (in no particular priority):

We discriminate in that a large segment of young kids can't serve their country if they drop out of high school. Kids want to belong to something, if they can't go in the service, they go to a gang, or become homeless, get in trouble, etc. Yet, they don't all start off as criminals. Kids are looking for leadership and belonging—if shown inspirational leadership, many can rekindle the fire to achieve.

Leaders of today say they don't want to return to the problems we had in the 70's. In the 70's, we had race problems, severe drug problems, Vietnam issues, etc Today, while we still have race relation and drug problems, they are not nearly of the scope of the 70s. My biggest point is that a monkey can lead the kids we get today because they hardly present any problems at all. They are so smart in fact, that they walk because of the problems Don and others highlighted in their recent emails—basically, they know when they are being BS'd. I think we have an obligation to take on some of these "non-high school graduate" types and "LEAD" them to be warriors and supporters of their freedoms as Americans. Inspirational leadership is what wins battles. While many may not stay, it also provides a group that might remain in the reserve/NG, or if we had to resort to a recall, we would have a cohort from which to draw —- like Korea in 1950......

You know, many of our Medal of Honor winners were not necessarily high school graduates, they were men with guts, tough, team players. The draft also brings in college graduates of all levels of achievement, skill, diversity, etc

Many of our high school grads have never had their nose bloodied—I'm not sure how they will react in battle—why are our suicide rates in the military up??. My point is that some of these kids from the school of hard knocks can be just the type of fighter you need. AND with SOLID leadership, they can be made into tough, strong, NCOS like we had in WWII, Korea, etc. This assumes that people generally are "good" not "evil." Obviously, we will always have our 10%—so we have that now anyway.

We said we needed HS grads because technology required a higher level of intelligence to operate equipment, etc. Most "stuff" today is plug and play black boxes, maintained by contractors or a few "highly intelligent" types. There is room for both high school and non high school grads. Frankly, the infantry needs real thinkers or those capable of real thinking—I would assume any grunt among us would agree with this proposition—especially considering the types of situations on the ground we are getting into. A jet mech can plug in the analyzer, pull out one box and plug in another. Probably an over simplification, but you get the point. "Remember, teach a man to fish, and you can feed hundreds!—leadership is inspiring learning." Thinking in the fog and friction of war is a hell of a lot harder than working on an airplane or mechanical instrument. Computers can't replace the brain when landing at Normandy, fighting in frigid Korea, getting out of an ambush in VN, fighting out of a downed helo in Somalia, etc

The draft will work if—we do all those things about cohesion, team building, realistic training, "care and cleaning" of our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines that we advertize. In addition, we need to "pick" the battles we want to fight more discriminately. Here is where national service can be used—boost up the NGOs with manpower (NS) so they can take back those "non-military" functions that are being completed by military today.

The ultimate impact of the draft could be that we restore "E PLURIBUS UNUM." Again, a look at today's landscape looks a lot like prior to WWII with immigration. I think the draft/national service can and will bring society and the military closer and strengthen understanding for employing our military.

Reference 2:

"Is the Army Better Off Today than 20 Years Ago?"

 Email from a Retired Lt Col, U.S. Army 

As a retired Army LTC who commanded an artillery battery in Germany exactly 20 years ago, I know part of the answer to the question. Yes, the Army is far better off today than 20 years ago in terms of the quality of people we have serving. I remember when one of my soldiers witnessed a crime and I asked him to write a statement. "I can't do that sir" he replied. "Are you unwilling to provide a written account" I asked. "I just can't do that sir," he again replied. "Why not" I asked. "I mean I can't write no statement because I can't write no statement." The kid could not write. At any given time, I had at least 20 soldiers in basic skills training because they couldn't read above the 3d grade level. It was also a time during which I threw out fully one out of every four soldiers after getting positive piss tests for morphine. Except, we couldn't just throw them out even for shooting heroin. Instead we referred them to a program known as CDAC where they received "counseling" and if they demonstrated an unwillingness to reform or pissed positive a few times in row, we were allowed to discharge them. That being said, you don't need a college grad to cut powder, set a fuze or to ram a round in order to send an artillery round downrange. Those smart kids we began recruiting in the 80s were probably far smarter than we ever needed but they also didn't come with all the "leadership challenges." My illiterate druggies could still meet ARTEP standards back in the days when they used the ARTEP to test your ability to accomplish your mission and not just as an "opportunity" to reveal training weaknesses. In fact, the battery I commanded was fully capable of going to Graf and performing all their wartime tasks to a very high standard and were every bit as good at those tasks as the battalion I served with 16 years later in Korea.

I was also very confident in their ability to go to war. It was the peacetime stuff that we had trouble with. When we were in Graf or out in a local training area, those guys were kick ass soldiers but when we were back in garrison the drugs were available and the alcohol was flowing in the local German town and being soldiers, away from home and bored, they didn't need to look for trouble, it tended to find them.

As I reflect on the way we trained and the results we achieved, I had total confidence in their ability to fight wars while at the same time I would shudder to think of having to take some of those illiterate druggies to perform a Bosnia mission or some of the other than war missions our soldiers perform today. So for me, the jury is out and the answer is not entirely cut and dry.

On the whole, as I look back over the past 20 years, I'd rather have the Army that we had a week after Desert Storm than the one we have today or the one we had twenty years ago. That was about as good as I remember it in my 20 years but it is also good to remember that those CAT 4 kids who served 20 years ago may not have been too bright and tended to get in a lot of trouble, but at the same time, they were really good at learning the crew drill and the tasks required to put steel on target downrange and I was fully prepared to go to war with them back then when we sat in Germany believing the Warsaw Pact be coming at any time.