The US Citizen-Soldier at War: A Retrospective Look and the Road Ahead

  • Published

The U.S. Citizen-Soldier at War: A Retrospective Look and the Road Ahead edited by Malcolm Muir Jr. McCormick Foundation (in conjunction with Virginia Military Institute), 2008, 142 pp.

The U.S. Citizen-Soldier at War examines issues with the All-Volunteer Force and the current posture of the Guard and Reserve. This compilation of 12 papers, presented in October 2007 at the First Division Museum as part of the McCormick Tribune Conference Series, touches upon three broad themes for the All-Volunteer Force—roles, manning, and future concerns—pointing out the need for and reliance on the Guard and Reserve. As Duncan reminds the reader, from Panama in 1989 to 11 September 2001 (9/11), the United States intervened with significant military force an average of once every 18 months (p. 70). Several of the contributors note that increased US military involvement has led to more reliance on the Guard and Reserve as part of the Total Force originally envisioned in 1970 by Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird. His concept of the Guard and Reserve as a strategic reserve has changed, particularly since 9/11, since the military depends more heavily upon those forces for operational missions. Pointing out that they were not created, funded, or organized as operational forces (p. 75), Wormuth points out that consistent use of the Guard and Reserve in this manner will require institutional changes.

Several of the authors’ discussions of the capabilities offered by the Guard and Reserve give readers an idea of how much the active component and the country truly depend on these citizen-soldiers. Wormuth notes that part of the problem with the Total Force concept is that certain military capabilities such as civil affairs, medical expertise, and military police reside almost solely within the reserve component, forcing automatic mobilizations in support of active-component deployments. Vaughn affirms how much the nation depends on the Army National Guard, whose eight divisions and 28 brigade combat teams make up 38 percent of the Army’s force structure and whose aviation assets comprise 43 percent of all Army aircraft (pp. 94–97). Yet, as Doubler observes, the Army National Guard struggles to match the active component in both equipment and manpower utilization as it contends with its traditional role of protecting the homeland while deploying overseas. The Air National Guard does not have a problem matching the active component. According to McKinley, the Guard had cultivated an operational capability and spirit through its “volunteer” process well before the end of the Cold War by deploying its refueling units in support of operational missions and assuming the interceptor mission for the continental United States. The increased requirements as a result of 9/11 have largely been transparent.

Nieberg, Williams, Millett, and the late Moskos raise the key theme of citizen-soldier manning, each addressing the equity-of-service argument and erosion of the citizen-soldier concept. A fraction of the population bears the burden of military service and sacrifice. Moreover, skewed economic and geographic demographics—reflecting overrepresentation of the poor and the South—continue to plague recruiting. Williams calls enlistees “economic conscripts,” noting that recruiters use economic rather than patriotic incentives to attract them (p. 32). All four contributors consider this societal and economic misrepresentation a problem that needs fixing. However, none of them offers a realistic solution. Moskos, one of America’s great military sociologists, proposes a military draft while Bell suggests that society needs to change its view of who should serve. In terms of utilization and resources, instituting a draft is economically unfeasible, and expecting society to change is unrealistic. Further, is this a problem that needs correcting? Nieberg notes how the Reserve Officer Training Corps has unintentionally integrated the officer corps with minorities and members from lower economic means, and Williams acknowledges that the All-Volunteer Force is working better than expected (p. 32). Societal misrepresentation within the military has long been a problem and will continue as such until the option not to serve exists.

Military readers should pay attention to the concern expressed by several authors about the future force structure. Millett notes that the increased call-up of Reserve members has affected retention while Bell observes that citizen-soldiers cannot be expected to endure the sacrifices of the “long war” without greater support from the population (p. 84). More importantly, Duckworth, Millett, and Williams ask how the military will continue to attract and retain members, especially now, in a time of extended conflict. This question leads Williams to wonder about the sustainability of the All Volunteer Force, given current circumstances. As The U.S. Citizen-Soldier at War illustrates, we must truly discern whether or not the All-Volunteer Force is meeting the nation’s defense needs. This book offers insight into some of the key challenges that policy makers will contend with as they forecast future manning and equipping requirements for the US military.

Lt Col Michael C. Veneri, USAF

US Air Force Academy

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."