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- An Army near the Breaking Point: studies & reports

We spend more on defense (broadly defined) than the rest of the world combined.  Nobody has military technology as advanced and powerful as ours.  American military journals assure us that our doctrines range from adequate to awesome.  None of this matters if we cannot attract and retain quality people in sufficient quantities.

Designed to wage 2.5 wars, after five years of fighting two “small wars” already our Army shows signs of breaking under the strain.  That is unfortunate, as these wars are like those we will likely fight in the future.  Worse, experts tell us that such struggles often take a decade or more to win (in the few cases in which foreign forces have been able to claim victory).  What will our Army look like after another five years if we cannot substantially reduce our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?

What does it mean to say that an army is “breaking”?  Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings writes:

For one thing, there is no sharp, discontinuous transition between an “unbroken” Army and a “broken” one: the kind that happens when a plate shatters, a fuse blows, or a motor finally gives out. For another, a “broken” Army will still be able to function, more or less … So there is no sharp contrast between an “unbroken” Army, which works, and a “broken” Army, which doesn’t.

What we are doing to the Army is less like breaking something, and more like slowly degrading its ability to perform its tasks to an unacceptable level. It’s a gradual process, one that does not provide us with clear points at which we can look at the Army and say: well, now it is well and truly broken. It’s not like breaking a chair or a statue.

Here are a selection of reports about the stress cracks in the body of the US Army.  None of these look good for the prospects of an Army of “strategic corporals” capable of implementing sophisticated COIN doctrines.

People, Ideas, and Hardware. “In that order!” the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences.

As usual, the definitive work on this was done early on by Martin van Creveld in his 1990 book The Training of Officers: from Military Professionalism to Irrelevance. His deep analytical insights suggest that many of the current proposed solutions are either useless or counter-productive.  Especially cogent – and disturbing to the status quo – is his analysis on the utility for officers of civilian university degrees. He shows how the current situation evolved, what are the forces maintaining it, and what constitute the barriers to change. He gives practical recommendation based on military history and modern needs.

For a combination of deep analysis and a detailed program for implementation see the many works of Donald Vandergriff (Major, retired, US Army). He summarizes both the need and path for change in his 2002 book “The Path to Victory:  America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs”:

When I began to outline a plan to “fix” the army, my starting point was simple: why did the army leadership preach terms like selfless service, decentralization and trust, but practice careerism, selfish service, and centralized control? Finding the why before coming up with the fix was complicated, especially as my research and writing exposed more questions than answers

… However, as long as senior leaders and elected officials are happy with the current force and its culture, many of the officers who represent the army’s future will continue to leave, The personnel management system and the laws that influence it must be reformed into a system that discourages careerists and courtiers while creating a professional corps based on the principles of selfless service.

Contents

Click on the title to jump to that section.

  1. Articles about our military’s fitness, and the mental and physical fitness of its people
  2. Articles about gangs infiltrating the US military
  3. Articles about the Army’s ability to attract and retain good people
  4. Urbanization and cultural change — effect on Army recruitment and diversity
  5. Demography:  how the aging of America makes recruiting more difficult
  6. Two magisterial studies of military recruiting by the National Academies (of Sciences)
  7. Solutions:  technology to the rescue


I.  Articles about our military’s fitness, and the mental and physical fitness of its people

  1. Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence“, 28 February 2001 — Last report of the 3 year project.
  2. 28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America, 7 May 2007 — About harassment and rape of women soldiers.
  3. 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel — 50 meg PDF here; Survey Summary
  4. U.S. Army Isn’t Broken After All, Military Experts Say“, Fox News, 19 March 2008.   This provides data suggesting that the US Army is in better shape than many believe.  Of special note are the data they show in these nine charts.
  5. Military check-up time“, Michael O’Hanlon, Washington Times, 4 May 2008 — O’Hanlon presents data that refutes widely held perception that the Army is breaking under the strain of the long war.
  6. Reagan and the draft“, Lawrence Korb, Washington Times, 16 May 2008 — A powerful rebuttal to Michael O’Hanlon’s Washington Times article of 4 May.
  7. Invisible Wounds of War“, RAND (2008) — “Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery”
  8. America’s Medicated Army“, Time, 5 June 2008 — About the growing use of anti-depressants by US army personnel.  Also see my post about this article.
  9. “VA testing drugs on war veterans” – The Washington Times and ABC News, 18 June 2008
  10. Is post-traumatic stress disorder more common now than in past wars?, 17 July 2008
  11. Suicides skyrocket among US soldiers, 26 March 2009
  12. Background info to the “U.S. Soldier Opens Fire on Comrades” incident, 12 May 2009
  13. Prescription Drugs and the U.S. Military — The War…on Drugs“, Melody Petersen, Men’s Health magazine, current issue (undated) — “Our Military is fielding one of the most heavily medicated fighting forces in the history of war. Our soldiers aren’t just fighting our enemies, they’re often also fighting their prescriptions.”
  14. Alcohol abuse by GIs soars since ’03“, USA Today, 19 June 2009
  15. Did exposure to “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan harm our troops?, 1 July 2009
  16. Another important story about out army nearing the breaking point, 28 July 2009 — about the Ft Carson killings.
  17. Navy attempted suicide rate nearly 3%“, Navy Times, 24 December 2009
  18. A look at the gradual decay of our armed forces, 28 December 2009
  19. Prevalence of Mental Health Problems and Functional Impairment Among Active Component and National Guard Soldiers 3 and 12 Months Following Combat in Iraq“, Jeffrey L. Thomas et al, Archives of General Psychiatry, June 2010
  20. The wounded warrior debate – how to treat casualties of our wars, 19 June 2010
  21. Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Report“, US Army, July 2010
  22. “We are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy”, 18 August 2010
  23. DoD Task Force On The Prevention Of Suicide By Members Of The Armed Forces“, August 2010
  24. The Army and Marines are breaking, but we don’t care, 11 October 2010
  25. Bleak news, but vital for us to understand: American Morlocks: Another Civilian Massacre and the Savagery of Our Soldiers, 17 March 2012


II.  Articles about gangs infiltrating the US military

  1. Military Base Jarred by Specter of Gang Killings“, New York Times, 3 February 1993
  2. LA street gangs infiltrate US army“, Weekly Journal, 25 July 1995
  3. The Cop-killing Marine and the Military“, Michelle Malkin, 19 January 2005
  4. FBI says U.S. criminal gangs are using military to spread their reach“, Stars and Stripes, 7 December 2006
  5. Gang-Related Activity in the US Armed Forces Increasing“, DoJ’s National Gang Intelligence Center, 12 January 2007 — Alt site for PDF.
  6. A series of articles about Gangs in the Military, Stars and Stripes, 10-11 February 2007
  7. Exclusive: Gangs Spreading In The Military“, CBS, 28 July 2007
  8. Gangs In The Military“, San Diego KGTV News, 30 October 2008


III.  Articles about the Army’s ability to attract and retain good people

Chief of Staff of the Army’s Leadership Survey 2000

Top-down loyalty – DOES NOT EXIST. Senior leaders will throw subordinates under the bus in a heartbeat to protect or advance their career. There is no trust of senior leaders in terms of loyalty because the record is clear. At the highest level, as example, 4 stars will watch our health care erode without taking a stand.

Captain Attrition at Fort Benning, Mike Matthews, January 2000

  • Family issues and dissatisfaction with Army job/life are most frequently given primary reasons for leaving.
  • Pay is not a major factor in career intent.
  • A strong civilian economy enables career change, but does not cause it.

Sayen Report, July 2000

If we put the Pentagon’s personnel managers in charge of the Sahara Desert, they would run out of sand in five years.

Generations Apart: Xers and Boomers in the Officer Corps, Leonard Wong, Strategic Studies Institute, October 2000

In less than 2 years, the Army shifted from denial of a junior officer retention problem to a situation where the most senior Army leadership became involved in seeking help to staunch the flow of captains out of the Army. How could Army senior leaders miss the signals of an attrition problem? How could the Army’s senior leadership not see junior officer resignation numbers increasing or hear the growing discontent at the junior officer level?

Briefing by LTG Timothy J. Maude, Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, US Army Commander’s Conference, 19 October 2000

Officer attrition is continuing at a rate that will not allow full manning of the force structure…

The Army Training and Leader Development Panel’s Officer Study Report (2001)

Army Culture is out of balance. There is friction between Army beliefs and practices. Over time, that friction threatens readiness. Training is not done to standard, leader development in operational assignments is limited and does not meet officer expectations, and officers and their families elect to leave the service early. Army Culture is healthy when there is demonstrated trust that stated beliefs equate to actual practices. Such a balance is vital to the health of the profession of arms and to the Nation it serves. Officers understand that there always exists a level of imperfection caused by normal friction between beliefs and practices. This is the Band of Tolerance. However, officers expressed the strong and passionate feeling that Army Culture is outside this Band of Tolerance and should be addressed immediately.

The Army must narrow the gap between beliefs and practices. It must gain and sustain itself within the Band of Tolerance.

The Army Transformation Meets the Junior Officer Exodus, Presentation to Security for a New Century (a bipartisan study group for Congress) by Mark R. Lewis, August 2001

A lot of people have spent a great deal of effort advocating that the Army ought to take bold steps to correct this cultural schism for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. I can only judge the emphasis the Army puts on this situation through evidence of their efforts to address it, and so far, those efforts do not reveal any meaningful attempt at understanding and addressing the deeper issues.

… I have tried to show trends in officer experience, skill and quality in the preceding slides. Separately, these trends concerning, but when taken together as an overall sort of “Effectiveness Index,” I think they have significant implications for the future of the Army. …Clearly, these trends are at odds with what the designers of the future Army have in mind. It is certainly tough to reconcile them with the idea that Army will produce future leaders with a “higher level of doctrine-based skills, knowledge, attitudes, and experience.” In fact, there is no evidence to indicate that the downward trends are slowing, let alone reversing. …

Who Bears the Burden? Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Recruits Before and After 9/11“, Tim Kane, Heritage Foundation, 7 November 2005

The Dumbing-Down of the U.S. Army“, Fred Kaplan, Slate, 4 October 2005

GI Schmo — How low can Army recruiters go?“, Fred Kaplan, Slate, 9 January 2006

Army Officer Shortages:  Background and Issues for Congress“, Congressional Research Service, 5 July 2006

It presently takes 10 years to “grow” a major (from lieutenant to promotion to major), and 14 years if that major is an academy or ROTC graduate. Therefore, the projected shortage appears to be a significant long-term challenge especially as the Army continues to transform and maintain a significant role in fighting the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

This report analyzes a number of potential factors contributing to the shortfall, especially the impact of reduced officer accessions during and after the Army personnel drawdownof the early 1990s, and the significant increase in Army officer requirements caused by the Army force structure transformation to a modular, brigade-centric force through its Modular Force Initiative. At this time, the high deployment tempo associated with Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) does not appear to be associated with these shortfalls.

Although the Army has already introduced several new programs to enhance officer retention, other possible options exist that could help address the Army’s officer shortages. They include the possibility of officer retention bonuses. The Army does not pay any officer continuation or retention bonuses, with the exception of Aviation Career Incentive Pay.

Army Readiness Detailed“, US ARMY News Release, 13 September 2006 — a response to articles like Kaplan’s.

Fighting on Borrowed Time: The Effect on US Military Readiness of America’s post-9/11 Wars“, Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives, 11 September 2006 — “High tempo operations in Iraq and Afghanistan degrades readiness for other missions.”  19 pages.

A U.S. military ‘at its breaking point’ considers foreign recruits“, Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, 26 December 2006

Strategic Plan Needed to Address Army’s Emerging Officer Accession and Retention Challenges“, Government Accountability Office, January 2007

The Army has not been accessing enough officers from ROTC and USMA.  Army officials stated that to meet their current ROTC goal they need at least 31,000 participants in the program, but in FY 2006 they had 25,100 participants in the program. Fewer Army ROTC participants may reflect the decrease in Army-awarded scholarships to officer candidates in recent years, an outcome that Army officials attribute to budget constraints.

Additionally, USMA’s class of 2005 commissioned 912 graduates, short of the Army’s goal of 950, while the class of 2006 commissioned 846 graduates, missing its goal of 900 graduates.

Commissioning shortfalls at USMA and in the Army ROTC program, as well as the Army’s need to expand its new officer corps, have required OCS to rapidly increase the number of officers it commissions. However, OCS is expected to reach its capacity in FY 2007, and resource limitations (such as housing, classroom space, and base infrastructure) may prevent its further expansion, limiting the viability of the Army’s traditional approach of using OCS to compensate for shortfalls in the other officer accession programs.

 ***** The next article reports on a speech from someone on the front lines of the struggle to recuit young men and women into the Armed Forces.  We should listen closely.

“How Do We Recruit, Train and Retain the Right People for the Future Force?”, Panel Discussion at Transformation Warfare 2007 Conference on 20 June 2007.  Here is an excerpt from a report on this panel by the Air Force Times, 21 June 2007 — Excerpt:

Most of today’s youth are not eligible for military service because they are too fat, too weak, not smart enough and prone to drug-use and criminal behavior, according to a panel of senior military officers.

“We are all victims of our own past success.  We all have a conscript mentality that there’s a never-ending supply of perfect high school graduates that are over the horizon coming at us to fill every job we have,” said Vice Adm. John Cotton, commander of the Navy Reserve.  “I’ll tell you what, we’re about to be shocked, because they are not there.”

Cotton spoke on a panel on recruiting and retention with officers from the Marines, Army and Air Force at a conference on “transformation warfare” hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Virginia Beach.  72% of American youth between 17 and 24 years of age are not eligible for military service for fitness, academic and law enforcement deficiencies, Cotton said, citing national statistics that some 30% of male youths drop out of high school.

Stephen Duncan, a Naval Academy graduate and former assistant defense secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, moderated the panel discussion on recruiting and retention.  “You can talk about acquisition and technology and all that is important but, as John Paul Jones said, ‘Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship,’ ” Duncan said.  “A lot of other general officers have said the same thing. We win or lose based on our people.”

Challenging the Generals“, Fred Kaplan, New York Times Magazine, 26 August 2007

Services Attain Strong Recruiting Numbers for Fiscal 2007“, American Forces Press Service, 10 October 2007

The Army’s Other Crisis:  Why the best and brightest young officers are leaving”, Andrew Tilghman, Washington Monthly, December 2007

Maintaining Quality in the Force“, briefing by General George W. Casey, Jr. (Army Chief of Staff) at the Brookings Institute, 4 December 2007

There’s no question that the army is stretched as a result of more than six years of war. And as a result of that stretch, the force and particularly the families are stretched. And I wrestled very hard to find the right word to describe the condition of the army that was stretched and stressed. And the term I came up with was “out of balance.” That the army today is out of balance. We’re consumed by the demands of the current operations and as a result, we’re not able to do the things to prepare for the future and to sustain the all volunteer force. …

“We’re deploying at unsustainable rates. Several months ago, we increased our deployment–“our boots on the ground time” we call it–to 15 months. We needed to do that to support the requirements of our commanders, to give our soldiers and families some predictability and mostly to ensure that the soldiers that were deploying had at least 12 months at home so that they could properly prepare to go. Now, we did that with the full understanding that it was temporary. We can’t sustain that…

High-Profile Officer Nagl to Leave Army, Join Think Tank“, Washington Post, 16 January 2008 — Rhodes Scholar, COIN expert; this is the kind of person the Army must retain!

Why is the Army losing so many talented midlevel officers?“, Fred Kaplan, Slate, 16 January 2008

John Nagl has left the building“, Philip Carter, Intel Dump, 16 January 2008

LTC John Nagl to retire, Abu Muqawama, 16 January 2008

Military Recruiting 2007: Army Misses Benchmarks by Greater Margin“, National Priorities Project, 22 January 2008

Note the that past surveys by this group have proven unreliable, and the Army disagrees with some of the conclusions in this report — mostly over the magnitude of the deterioration.  The following excerpt describes DoD numbers, which DoD has not contested.

All recruits also take the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) which is normalized for the youth population.  The test score indicates trainability.  Those in Categories I and II tend to be above average in trainability; those in Category IIIA and IIIB are average; those in IV are below average; those in Category V are markedly below average.

Until 2006, the DoD had a goal of at least 67% of recruits testing at least in the 50th percentile of the AFQT, in terms of the categories, I – IIIA.  Since 2005, the percentage of active-duty Army recruits scoring in the top half of the AFQT has fallen.  In 2007, it was 60.8% .  The DoD attempted to cap Category IV recruits to less than 2%, but recently raised the cap to 4%.  Historically, this has not been a problem, but since 2005, the percentage of Category IV recruits has been at least 4%. In 2007, it was 4.1%.

Army Effort to Retain Captains Falls Short of Goal, Wall Street Journal, 26 January 2008 —  subscription-only site:

“The program persuaded 11,933 captains to commit to additional Army service, short of the 14,184 goal. The military will pay out more than $349 million in bonuses to the officers who took the incentives.  All told, 67.6% of those eligible for the program — which offered officers cash bonuses of as much as $35,000, the ability to choose their next assignment or military-funded graduate school — agreed to serve another one to three years in the Army.”

Deployments strain Army recruiting, retention (remarks to reporters by Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey, Jr.), USA Today, 19 February 2008:

The stress of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan is beginning to show in the declining quality of Army recruits, retention of midlevel officers, desertions and other factors such as suicide, the Army’s top general said Tuesday. … said his primary concern is the loss of captains. The Army invests about 10 years to develop them. An effort in the fall of 2007 to entice 14,000 of them to extend their commitments fell short by about 1,300, he said.

“People aren’t designed to be exposed to the horrors of combat repeatedly, and it wears on them,” Casey said. “There’s no question about that.”

Military Recruitment 2009: Who joined the Army this year?“, National Priorities Project — “NPP looked at the demographics of these Army recruits to see if they reflected those of the nation. More recruits continue to come from the South, and more recruits come from rural than urban areas.  Indeed, Secretary Gates in a recent address noted these very trends and voiced concern that a “narrow sliver of our population” is fighting our wars.”

Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving“, Tim Kane, The Atlantic, February 2011

Why are so many of the most talented officers now abandoning military life for the private sector? An exclusive survey of West Point graduates shows that it’s not just money. Increasingly, the military is creating a command structure that rewards conformism and ignores merit. As a result, it’s losing its vaunted ability to cultivate entrepreneurs in uniform.

Military Recruiting 2010“, National Priorities Project, 30 June 2011 — Who are the recruits to our military? Where do they come from?

Army morale declines, survey shows“, Boston Globe, 19 August 2012 — ” Only a quarter of the Army’s officers and enlisted soldiers believe the nation’s largest military branch is headed in the right direction — a survey response that is the lowest on record”


IV.  Urbanization and cultural change

The US military recruits most effectively from a relatively small and shrinking fraction of the US population.  This has ominous implications for the future.  Just as our imperial ambitions might exceed our financial resources, they may also exceed our manpower — our ability to voluntarily recruit legions, able to fight foreign wars – a generation or two from now.

Army Recruiting and the Civil-Military Gap“, Matthew J. Morgan, Parameters, Summer 2001:

Despite the public confidence in the military institution, however, there appears to be a deficit of social capital to support the armed forces. One reason for this may be a declining civic participation among Americans generally. As Andrew Bacevich has written, “In a society in which half of the eligible voters did not even bother to show up at the polls in the [1996] presidential election, the notion of an obligation to participate in the country’s defense has become an anachronism, an oddity from another time.”  James Kitfield has referred to a “nearly unbridgeable cultural divide” between American society in general and the US military.

… Dramatic sociopolitical changes dating to the end of World War II (increased hedonism, greater personal expression, opposition to the military lifestyle, resistance to authority, and increased moral criticism), started the decline of mass armies in Western industrial nations, and over the past 30 years the process has become increasingly apparent. The end of conscription in most of the West is a response to these pressures. This offers an alternative explanation to the relevancy of the civil-military rift to recruiting: a decline in the acceptance of military authority, which is a factor frequently associated with youth attitudes against military service.

In addition to changes in attitudes toward authority, changing political beliefs also are affecting the military’s ability to attract new personnel. William Mayer’s work has shown that a strong case can be made that there has been a trend toward more liberal positions on most social values. American society may be more liberal and individualistic now than when Huntington’s theory of objective civilian control was first formulated in The Soldier and the State. This shift may have special significance for the civil-military gap, because while a plurality of civilian leaders are classified as liberals, only a small fraction of military officers are in that category.  A 1998-99 study of opinions across the armed services even found that military dislike for then-President Clinton was not a significant factor in these results. Even if the

“studies had ended with the survey in early 1992, when George Bush [senior] was in the White House and a Clinton presidency seemed a very improbable long shot . . . the primary trends described here would already have been in place.”

On a more fundamental level, basic assumptions and values are influencing the propensity for military service. William Bennett has documented a “palpable culture decline” and an actual shift in the public’s beliefs, attitudes, and priorities over the past decades. This shift in popular values might affect the civil-military gap and military recruiting. For instance, a growing affinity for free will and individual expression damages both the ability of citizens to understand the military culture and the likelihood that they would become a part of it. Research has shown that young Americans who expect to serve in the military place a lower priority on personal freedom than do their peers. As more and more Americans place a higher priority on personal freedom, fewer expect to find themselves in uniformed service.

Youth attitudes are shifting to take them further from the military perspective. Interviews with youths on the subject revealed several characterizations. “They don’t like to be told what to do.” “Most teenagers don’t want to commit to anything.” Teens “don’t like getting up early.”  Such attitudes don’t comport well with a military career.

… In addition to physical and intellectual separation, the modern force is not demographically representative of the population at large.  John Lehman argues that “we have created a separate military caste.”  He points out that while most American community leaders have had military experience, few of their children have.  Exacerbating the situation is the fact that cadets and midshipman who are children of career military parents are present in record numbers at the service academies.

There is significance in these trends. An insulated military has reduced visibility in the civilian population, and a relatively invisible military is going to engender little support and understanding for its budgetary and recruitment needs in a population that expects lower expenditures on the military in peacetime.


V.  Demography:  the aging of America

The combination of lower fertility rates (fewer women having children, women having fewer children) can only make recruiting more difficult in the future.  There are many excellent reports examining this topic; here are links to a few of them.

Manning the American Military:  Demographics and National Security“, Martin Binkin, Negative Population Growth, May 1990.  Although written by an advocacy organization, the author makes a strong case that an aging America does not prevent America from fielding armed forces like those of WWII or the Cold War.

Report titled “The Demographic Obstacles to Military Recruitment:  Benchmarksfor Preserving the Numerical Strength of the Armed Forces”, Real Instituto Elcano, November 2003.  Note:  compulsory military service in Spain ended in 2001.

The armed forces’ recruitment success rate ([number of new recruits]/[size of the recruitment niche]) has fallen from 2.5 ‰ of the recruitment niche between 1998 and 2000 to 1.6 ‰ in 2001 and 2002. This corresponds to a level of recruitment in the first three years of around 20 thousand people, compared with only 10 thousand in the recruitment campaigns carried out in 2001 and 2002.

If we assume that the armed forces are at best capable of maintaining a recruitment success rate of 1.6 ‰ of their total recruitment niche in the coming years, the total number of new recruits would decrease for each year as a result of Spain’s negative demographic development. The yearly intake would approach 8.000 by 2010, compared with 10.690 in 2002. By 2020 the number would be down further to 7.500. If nothing drastic happens with the number of recruits leaving the armed forces each year, the result of these developments would be a very significant reduction in the numerical strength of the armed forces.

However, it seems unlikely that the proportion of people leaving the army should change in any dramatic way. While the recruitment success rate has been on the decline, the ratio of soldiers leaving the armed forces each year has increased from 7 % in 1998 to 15 % in 2001 and 2002. Thus, if the current recruitment success rate should stabilize at 1.6 ‰ and the current rate at which soldiers leave the armed forces stabilize at 15%, the numerical strength of the Spanish armed forces should be more or less programmed to decrease by 1.000 soldiers per year for the foreseeable future. That is, by 2010 the numerical strength of the armed forces would approach 62.000 men and by 2020 it would be merely 52.000 soldiers. Needless to say, a reduction of this importance could jeopardize the whole project of professionalizing the armed forces.

I strongly recommend the following report, perhaps the best of any listed here.

Demographic Trends and Military Recruitment:  Surprising Possibilities“, George H. Quester, Parameters, Spring 2005 — I will not attempt to summarize this; it is essential reading for anyone interested in this topic.  He suggests several interesting ways to adapt our military to a changed demographic reality.

This article will attempt to project current demographic trends in the United States and abroad, along with several related determinants, a substantial distance into the future, so as to explore some possibly surprising implications for the recruitment of armed forces. The most important of these demographic factors will be the “graying” of the population, in America and all the advanced industrialized countries, as lower birthrates and longer life-spans project that a larger proportion of the total population will be above what was viewed, until recently, as the normal age for retirement.

In many of the advanced countries, the total of younger people will actually decline as an absolute number. In the United States and in several other advanced countries, this total will not absolutely decrease, but it will certainly decline as a percentage of the overall population. Other important demographic trends will include the worldwide shift of population to urban areas, and the continued high birthrates in many underdeveloped countries, with a bias in some areas toward preventing the birth or survival of female children.


VI.  Two magisterial studies of military recruiting by the National Academies (of Sciences)

These are valuable and comprehensive research reports, the type of work foundational to any solutions.

“Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment”, Committee on the Youth Population and Military Recruitment, Editors Paul Sackett and Anne Mavor, National Research Council of the National Academies (2003).  Here is the introduction and links to the full report.

“Evaluating Military Advertising and Recruiting: Theory and Methodology”, Committee on the Youth Population and Military Recruitment, Editors Paul Sackett and Anne Mavor,  National Research Council of the National Academies (2004).  Here is the introduction and links to the full report.


VII.  Solutions:  technology to the rescue

One response to this problem would be to re-evaluate how the military attracts, retains, and uses its people.  As this seems beyond DoD’s capability, it has played its strongest cards:  money and technology.  DoD created the Joint Advertising, Marketing Research And Studies (JAMRS) project.  The key tool of JAMRS is a database of over 30 million records, perhaps the largest collection of data about 16 – 25 year-old Americans.  For a description of JAMRS and its implications see “Pentagon Database Leaves no Child Alone“, Mike Ferner, Monthly Review, 2 March 2006.

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