TCS Daily

Will a Larger Military Mean Lower Standards?

By Robert Haddick - January 16, 2007 12:00 AM

Late last week U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the Defense Department's intention to increase the permanent headcounts of the Army and Marine Corps. The Army's end-strength would rise from 512,400 to 547,000. The Marine Corps's manpower would rise from 180,000 to 202,000.

The Department intends to implement these increases over about five years. The Army will grow by 7,000 soldiers per year until it reaches 547,000 while the Marine Corps will grow at 5,000 per year until it reaches 202,000.

Under the program Mr. Gates announced, the Army's annual recruiting mission could in five years increase to as much as 115,000 new soldiers per year, a 44% increase from the current recruiting mission. The Marine Corps's annual recruiting mission would jump to 61,000 per year, a 56% increase compared to the current recruiting mission. The exact numbers in five years time will depend on how youthful the services prefer to maintain their forces, what balances among grades they wish to maintain, how successful retention efforts are, etc.

The Defense Department currently achieves its recruiting goals. Yet the Department also noted that only 30% of potential recruits in the 19-24-year-old age group meet the existing standards to enlist in the U.S. military. There is little doubt that Mr. Gates's proposal to dramatically increase Army and Marine Corps recruiting is going to crash into the reality that only 30% of the candidate pool meets the current standards.

The first step the Department and the Congress will take to bridge the gap is to increase pay, bonuses, and benefits to attract more of that eligible 30%. As worthy as that idea is, it also has its limitations. Military life is culturally unique. Most people who are otherwise fit, intelligent, and morally sound are either not socially suited for military life or will not be tempted to join at any wage. They either won't accept the military or the military won't want to accept them. Here, money is not the issue.

Another possibility is to attempt to recruit more non-U.S. citizens. This is an old tradition in American history. But there are also limitations with this idea. Foreigners can function at the lowest ranks, but most will suffer restrictions on their military careers. It will be difficult or unwise to give most foreigners, especially those who have family living abroad either in neutral or unfriendly countries, the clearances necessary to use and handle classified information. Encryption devices for tactical radios, tactical intelligence reports, and the custody of high-value optics and electronics involve security risks. U.S. military practices put responsibilities, including the handling of classified materials and hardware, on young, low-ranking members. Foreign recruits will clash with these realities. If these recruits cannot obtain security clearances to perform these responsibilities, they won't have much of a career in the military. (See this posting from Strategypage on recruiting and foreign recruits.)

The only other way to fill the gap is to take in recruits that the military would previously have rejected. That means changing the standards so that more than 30% of the target cohort is eligible for service. No one likes this idea. But Mr. Gates will be hard pressed to avoid this option if he is to achieve his new recruiting targets.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld worked strenuously to avoid the very announcement Mr. Gates made last week. Mr. Rumsfeld hoped that "transformation" would reduce the number of soldiers required to achieve battlefield effects that previously required vast hordes to accomplish. Technology, as exemplified by the Army's Future Combat System, is only part of the transformation story. The Marine Corps's "distributed operations" concept will achieve immense effects on the battlefield, with platoons doing the work of battalions and companies doing the work of regiments (Westhawk discussed this concept in this post). Under distributed operations, the Marine Corps will reorganize its infantry battalions to allow sergeants and lieutenants to lead wide-ranging patrols deep through enemy terrain. A battalion commander previously maneuvered with three rifle companies. Under distributed operations, that battalion commander will employ a dozen to 30 or more mobile, elite teams to find the enemy, direct airpower, or mass for attack. Small unit leaders will be given unprecedented authority and responsibility. However, the Marine Corps requires only the best recruits, trainable to elite standards, to make distributed operations a reality.

Mr. Gates is leading in the wrong direction. Rather than reinforcing failure, what the U.S. government should be learning from Iraq is a new way to fight its wars. Instead of using massed legacy American forces, the U.S. should move to a model that employs highly-trained U.S. teams either working in a distributed fashion to identify enemy targets, or as advisors to local allies and proxies.

This was where Mr. Rumsfeld was driving. Now Mr. Gates is steering the Defense Department off the road. Instead of being allowed to develop high quality recruits into elite warriors prepared for a complex battlefield, Mr. Gates is going to dump more marginal misfits on the sergeants and lieutenants. Let's hope someone can stop this ride before it ends up in the ditch.

The author was a U.S. Marine Corps infantry company commander and staff officer. He was the global research director for a large private investment firm and is now a private investor. His blog is Westhawk.



The Shinseki approach
There's nothing wrong with using a small, Rumsfeld-style invasion force. All you have to fo is to invade a country that doesn't put up any resistance, as was the case with Iraq.

The problem comes in holding the territory. For that, you need a Shinseki sized force. In the case of Iraq, that would be 400,000 troops. In the case of Iran, three times that.

Obviously, the question is where to find these people, since they're not going to just walk in and sign up. So we turn to the solution favored by Rome during the late stages of empire-- use foreign mercenaries.

The carrot we will dangle for them is citizenship, not cash. We are reminded that at the same time we were detaining and caging foreign fighters volunteering in Afghanistan for being somehow "illegal", our first casualty in that invasion was a Guatemalan who had signed up in exchange for a shot at citizenship.

Without many hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground we can conquer as many countries as we want. We'll just have to walk away from them after we've captured their flag-- there will be no means for holding them against their own citizen populations.

Command Opportunities
Ambitious officers need bodies to command, not robots (UAVs).

I do not doubt those aspiriring to flag ranks vehemently opposed Rumsfled for that main reason.

One reason the Marine Corps is so good is that it has always received 'hand-me-downs' from the Army and Navy.

The had to learn how to improvise and adapt with what they had. (Just as the terrorists do.)

So if you want an effective fighting force, Rumsfeld had it right.

If you want to create opportunities for colonels to become generals, Gates is on the right track.

This mindset pervades the civilian world as well in the government and in industry.

"only 30% of potential recruits in the 19-24-year-old age group meet the existing standards to enlist in the U.S. military"

I ask the author for proof of this claim please. Thank you.

I sat a B-fast barr with a recruiter and he told me something interesting
I asked, "Is the drive by media right when it says we can't recruit enough to fill quota's?".

He paused for a while and responded, "Well the answer is a qualified yes. But there are two reasons, 1 the quotas have increased and do you want to know what the real problem is? You haven't asked me the real problem."

I asked, "Sure whats the real problem?"

He looked bored and responded, "I have become a drug counselor. None of these new kids can pass the drug screen".

I though for a while, I am a reformed drug user, but how hard is it to stop for one test.

I asked "Can't the stop for one test? Don't they know they are going into the military and drugs are a no-no anyway?"

He responded, "They do know about the test, I tell them. For some reason the just don't stop"...

This pretty much tells me, the quality folks that are going into the military are allready in the military. Right now we are looking at the bottom of a zip lock baggie and seeing nothing but "Stems and Seeds".. :-)

No Subject
TheBigR, I'm sure all those intelligent, dedicated, and brave kids who are "stuck in Iraq" are laughing at your botched joke.

the joke
read it again,

The "stems and seeds" is a reference to those who aren't in the military. He's saying that the best and the brightest have already joined.

No reference was made... any in active duty. In fact I complemented those in active duty, if you read that with the whole meaning.

I have a friend who is in the 20-25 age group...

He doesn't do drugs.

What are you talking about?

actually the reason many in the military vehemently opposed Rumsfeld was the same reason many in the army and navy do not respect the marine corps. if you look at the history of majore marine corps victories you will see a pattern develope of victories won through valliant effort and loss of life that could have been avoided had their been adequit support. numbers to not simply create opportunities for colonels to become generals as you put it, numbers insure that victories are won at a far lower cost of life. overwhelming force reduces friendly casualties but the investment of large troop numbers was the wrong political move to make so Rumsfeld opposed it. that is why he was opposed.

Rumsfeldian and Cheneyesque Doctrines have failed
I'm shocked that Rumsfeld's ideas still find adherents despite the overwhelming evidence that he has failed. You can't fight a war on the cheap. Using massive manpower ensures success and has throughout all of history. By trying to finesse the number of troops in this war and keep the numbers as low as possible he has ensured that the enemy is not routed.

Winning this war requires a big effort and our leaders are acting as though we can get by with minimal effort.

There's no doubt that numbers can win. If we put ten million soldiers in Iraq, we could pretty well dominate and keep that place safe. With 130,000 we have shown that we can't do the job. Somewhere between those numbers is a reasonable amount that can ensure victory.

An extra 20,000 in country? How about an extra 200,000? End rotations, everyone should stay until the war is won. My bags are packed. Let's stop *****-footing around and win.

A few thousand terrorists
are doing a pretty good job of conquering the west.

Terrorists can rule through murder
But to make a place safe for decent people requires a lot more.

I saw maybe a dozen people completely terrorize and dominate entire cities in Al Anbar. It's easy because all you have to do is slice a few people in half or chop off children's arms. Suddenly everyone cooperates.

But we can't work that way. We want civilization, not a reign of terror. To get there we can't rely on a few thousand troops. We have to be almost everywhere almost all the time so that the terrorists can't get a foot in.

Freedom is always harder than terror.

We, US, don't want to rule Iraq
From what I understand, an occupation force was not desired.

The bad assumption was that the people of Iraq wanted to be free.

We didn't want to control (rule) Iraq. We needed to do so, at least temporarily. That is the responsibility of the conqueror.

We believed our own euphemism and acted as though we didn't conquer the land, but after decades of tyranny that we destroyed, the people of Iraq were left without anything to encourage law and order. This was clear from the first few weeks.

Making a misjudgement is excusable, life is filled with them. But refusing to recognize them is unforgiveable.

All is not lost, we can still recover, but yet again we are being asked to only do the minimum. We will continue to fail if we don't change our commitment to winning.

How do you know it would be different?
Our benevolent invading force of 250,000 + would surley be seen as a temporary measure by Iraqis and its neighbors and it would have been a cake walk.

And of that 250,000 how many are combat and how many support?

I didn't really say that number.
I said there is a number somewhere between the number we have been losing with and ten million.

How many are combat and how many are support? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

The answer to your question is that there is some number that will succeed, this we know.

Whether they see it as beneficial is irrelevent. It's not an easy job, but it must be done. The only thing that matters is that we stay true to our purpose and get out of their way when they're ready. So far we've been rushing to get out before they're ready, with the result of delaying that date.

I think Gates and I both agree with Roy...
At present, the U.S. Armed Forces need more occupation troops to win in Iraq. To win- an infantry must hold the ground! Call me 'Old School', but I'm still not convinced a large occupation Army isn't required. For example, a large, powerful, drafted American Army could serve as occupation troops in Iraq. Their cooperation with the smaller elite units would vastly improve our chances of winning!

RE: 30%???
The "only 30% of potential recruits in the 19-24-year-old age group meet the existing standards to enlist in the U.S. military" is probably a misquote or lie that was passed among some alleged journalists who wanted to believe it.

Let's suppose it is true that only 30% are qualified for the all volunteer military. How many actually serve? Less than 1%. What is the big deal?

The article sounds like more like political posturing than a concern for recruiting.

Lower Standards?
We must guard against an elite military. When I joined the Air Force in 1957 I did not have a high school diploma. I had a difficult time joining because of a police record. I was accepted after I sent the Air Force letters of recommendation -- one being from our U.S. Representative.

I became a B52 mechanic, finishing in the top 3 percent of thousands of men (no women in those days) who went through the course. I got a high school GED while in the Air Force and got a college degree after discharge.

While in the Air Force I served with a great number of men who had a similar back-ground as mine -- good men all.

While the Air Force didn't draft in those days a lot of men "volunteered" for four years in the Air Force to escape the 2 year draft in the Army.

What I'm trying to say is that all of us were Americans and we served well and honorably. We were a microcosm of all of society.

With today's "higher standards" I and many very good men would not have been able to serve.

And, let's discuss "standards" a little. If 5 was the standard yesterday and 15 is the standard today, would we be "lowering standards" if tomorrow it was 10?

By the way, I joined the Army in 1975 and retired in 1999 as a Master Sergeant. I almost cry when I look back and think, "What if I was not allowed to serve my country?".

Yes bigger is worse for a variety of reasons.
As a Lieutenant in the Army, I preferred the following:
1. 10 volunteers over of a platoon of conscripts.
2. A company of M1-A1 tanks and Bradleys over a Battalion of Chinese-Russian-Other crap vehicles.
3. 1 squadron of helicopters and one squadron of F16s over the entire air forces of most of the other folks.

Basically I always wanted a few good things over tons of bad things. I always thought a quality force is the best defense of the United States!!!!

If we do not have the numbers of soldiers or the right amount of equipment to fight these foreign wars, Then maybe we should stop the wars?

You are correct, LT.
However, you don't need a high school graduate to pull a trigger on an M16.

You are very young, being a lieutenant. You did not have the honor or responsibility to command "conscripts" in WWII, Korea, or Viet Nam. If everyone was as smart as you they would be officers. (That's a joke).

Of course you prefer volunteers. They make your job easier. Why would you want to actually work for a living? Oh, that's right, you're an officer.

Thinking it through to the endgame
The only problem with your fix is that a large army of angry conscripts leads to 1968-- another generation of disaffected enemies of the government. Are we ready for fraggings again?

My thoughts are that if we are unpopular now-- which is demonstrable- we will be equally if not more unpopular ten years from now. So staying longer alone will not improve our situation.

The fundamental flaw was that we promoted democracy in a country where a majority can't stand us and want us out. Now we have to either maintain it by force or give up on the project.

Never start a fight you can't finish.

That's the US Army's calculation
Not surprisingly, the Army does research this kind of thing. They want to know what their troop replacement base looks like.

These studies are routinely updated, and often have reflected only a 25% eligibility among the pool of that entire age group. But most recently they would accept 30 percent of all youths.

Start here for the backgrounder:

Not only that...
He's also saying that if we're trying to expand the military now, the stems and seeds are all we've got left to work with.

Nice points skyler and I pretty much agree
Actually the real number can be narrowed significantly. For total control, between 700,000 and 1.5 million; to handle Baghdad and a few other hot spots, between 300,000 and 500,000.

Go for the higher number, send them in and get the job done. We have enough troops, as you said no more rotations until it is finished.

re: doctrines
Skyler, I think you are having difficulty distinguishing between 'conventional' - linear warfare and insurgency. The coalition forces won the war pretty handily. However, the forces we fielded, unlike the example of the Brits, have not made the transition to counterinsurgency. The size of a counterinsurgency force is significant, but it's not the only factor in a successful counterinsurgency effort. The main effort in a counterinsurgency is directed to the population: keep the part supporting the government where they are, entice the fence sitters to the government side, and persuading the insurgent rank and file to come over to the govt. side.
Merely killing 'insurgents' is pretty easy, but the collateral effects on the population can wipe away govt efforts pretty quickly. I feel that the reason we're not doing well in the counterinsurgency is that we have far too many combat oriented troops in contact with the civilian population.
We probably need more troops in Iraq, but I don't think we need more trigger pullers.

re: 30%
I don't know if the 30% is accurate, but I know that a potential recruit must 1) have no police record, 2) be off of behavioral control meds ( such as ritalin) for at least a year, 3) be a high school graduate, 4) pass the entrance exam, 5) meet the height/weight/body fat standard and the other standards of medical fitness (see AR 40-501). At my son's high school I'm pretty sure that at least half of the kids attending will never meet all these criteria.

I agree to a point.
Yes, we cannot rule by terror. However, if we capture a KNOWN terrorist we need to eliminate them in a very overt manner and show that we will not tolerate this. We have been to nice, far to nice. Civility has limits. Not with children but with terrorist we shoudl show no mercy at all.

I'm looking at the numbers...these numbers don't work...
What is it with this? These numbers are wrong. If the army is going to increase from 512,400 to 547,000 then that is a 35,000 total increase five years from now and 6.8%. If there is any successful effort to retain soldiers then the percentage increase in new recruits would be lower than 6.8% or perhaps not be necessary at all. Nevertheless, Westhawk is saying that we need to increase recruiting for the Army by 44%! How is this possible?

Similarly, the Marines are going to increase from 180,000 to 202,000. This is 22,000 new Marines and an 12.2% increase. Still Westhawk calculates this to require a 56% increase in recruits.

Further, I suspect that Westhawk's hard numbers might be wrong. "The permanent increase of 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines would cost more than $10 billion annually and take five years to achieve...(By Ann Scott Tyson and Josh White; Washington Post Staff Writers; Friday, January 12, 2007; Page A14)

Nevertheless, we are not going to have anything like the sort of quality problem in the military that Mr. Haddick is ranting about. Mr. Haddick is a self-serving voice for the uneducated warmonger (this is almost certainly how he makes his living, isn't it?) or perhaps he is simply a moron.

nice that you have such a low opinion of yourself
There's no evidence that all the good men are gone

Ahhh That recruiter said some thing different.
Pretty clear evidence dude.

1968 redux
The numbers are based on a lot of guesswork-- principally over how many GIs who have had the Iraq Experience are going to want to re-up and re-up beyond their secord and third tours of duty, and stay on as career military.

If attrition is low, and few of them either die or opt for a life after the army, it would take a minimal number of recruits to keep up the existing troop strength. And a minimal number is, I think, what we're currently seeing.

But to increase the total number of warm bodies in the army, it may very well be that a 44% increase in new recruits might be required to increase total troop strength by 6.8%.

The real question will be, just how attractive s a career in the military, now that we have announced a Global War on Terror that is manifestly without end? How disadvantaged does their traditional recruit base-- poor kids from counties with few opportunities-- have to be before they actually consider donating their lives to the maintenance of the big meat grinder?

One strategy for maintaining new recruit strength would be to continue our program of outsourcing America's work overseas, so that jobs for high school grads are just not there any more. These desperate souls would only have the choice of becoming America's army abroad or becoming America's next generation of hippies.

Forcing them to want us to stay
"From what I understand, an occupation force was not desired. The bad assumption was that the people of Iraq wanted to be free."

How often in history do we find a nation welcome invaders who don't go home?

How often do we find them to retain any popularity when they provoke chaotic conditions, as was done by failing to stop the looting, and maintain a continued state of lawlessness from one year to the next?

Is it any wonder that we are seen as the creator of their problems? And now that resistance is widespread, we still won;t go away.

We are there to bring democracy-- so long as they decide to vote for our continuing presence and influence. And if they don't? We'll just stay there until they do.

Actually, this is the problem. We HAVE made the transition to counter-insurgency, I've been there and I saw it first hand. The problem with this theory is that there is no law and order.

We can't expect the people to side with us if we can't provide any security at all. They can be patient with occasional attacks, and side with us, but they won't side with us if they are all legitimately afraid to go out their door everyday.

You might be surprised what requires a waiver
If you wear glasses, you need a waiver.

If you have ever used illegal drugs, you need a waiver.

If you were ever on prozac or those very popular attention deficit disorder medications, you need a waiver.

If you have excessive tattoos, you need a waiver.

It's actually surprising that the percentage isn't higher.

Too Bad
we can't let them all kill each or do whatever they want to do to each other, like Rwanda.

In a global economy, the world is a small place and what happens in the middle east affects the rest of the world.

So, like the teacher in elementary school who forces kids to shake hands and get along, the west has no choice but to do the same in the middle east.

The alternatives are much worse.

It's not an either/or
The military is still substantially smaller than it was in the 1980's when there was no war going on. I can't speak of the army, but I know that the USMC had all high school graduates and there was no draft. And believe me, the pay is much better now, too.

We can be much bigger than we are now without sacrificing quality. It's been done before.

True, but
I too was in the military in the 80s, and Reagan pushed the increases hard while also increasing pay. By the time I got out in 1985, the Navy and USMC were nearly twice their present size. (If I remember right, so was the Army) Bush Sr. began the downsizing and it continued at an ever accellerating rate through the Clinton years. Until 9/11, Bush Jr. was looking at continuing the downsizing.

Why was this the case? Everyone wants to blame Dubbya and Rumsfeld, but it began before either was ever considered for the job. It began with the end of the cold war. By 1989 young officers and enlisted were being riffed (with full and honorable discharge) if they were not in "critical need" jobs. This went along with the base closures and other post-cold war expense reductions.

The 1991 Gulf War simply proved we had more troops than we really needed in most future dust-ups, or so it was said. The idea that was being fronted as early as 1983 was for a small, fast-deployment, military and a lot of money was being diverted to additional heavy lift capability and better troop and equipment carrier ships. The idea of a military capable of fightin a massive, two-front war last popularity in the 70s.

Sadly, it is highly unlikely we will see a real change in this strategy, in spite of the present push for an increase in troop strength. I predect that, by 2020, the Army will have a total active duty roster of under 400,000 and about 150,000 combat forces. The Marines will be down to about 125,000 with, maybe, 70,000 combat strength. The Navy and Air Force will be about their present strength and possibly see small increases. We are going to see a continued reliance on technology and increased unit capability. Those that can get to the scene the quickest (Air Force) and stay on station longest without the need for build up and bases (Navy) will be the focus. We will rely on National Guard and Reserve forces if a real ground war breaks out and those numbers will be possibly increased in the future.

It all comes down to money. Technology, even very expensive technology, is generally cheaper than manpower.

a casual comment from one recruiter is enough to condemn an entire generation?
Pretty weak evidence. Dude.

Notice the difference between....

and None...

Its just and English thing.

like the difference between non-existent and almost to small to detect?
If you are impressed by that level of evidence, then you are easily impressed.

I don't consider one man's opinion to constitute evidence.
Especially without knowing his background and why he holds that opinion.

So is my girlfriend...

But what can I do?

Don't you think it would at least
Raise some doubt?

Perhaps require further research?

Its not positive no mattar what we would like to think.

Will a Larger Military
It seems to me the military must be prepared to wage different kinds of wars depending on the enemy and the terrain. In Iraq we needed a large blikreig type army to role over Iraq quickly and to secure rear areas as taken.

We need more service troops to prepare meals, engineers to repair roads and electrical systems, more combat MPs to secure things like oil fieds.

We need counter insurgance specilist and civil goverment soldiers.

Afganistan is a different war than Iraq, but we have not rebuilt the roads as promised or other infrastructure which could be done by combat engineers and regular engineers.

Here are two different war fought as the same time while we have other troop commitments around the world.

Clearly we need a larger military and more than just combat soldiers.

I remembe the young transport soldier who got a silver star in Iraq for holding off insurgents who were attacking his convoy. Not Marine material perhaps, but a vauluable member of the military.

Will a Larger Military
It seems to me the military must be prepared to wage different kinds of wars depending on the enemy and the terrain. In Iraq we needed a large blitzkrieg type army to role over Iraq quickly and to secure rear areas as taken.

We need more service troops to prepare meals, engineers to repair roads and electrical systems, more combat MPs to secure things like oil fields.

We need counter insurgency specialist and civil government soldiers.

Afghanistan is a different war than Iraq, but we have not rebuilt the roads as promised or other infrastructure which could be done by combat engineers and regular engineers.

Here are two different wars fought as the same time while we have other troop commitments around the world.

Clearly we need a larger military and more than just combat soldiers.

I remember the young transport soldier who got a silver star in Iraq for holding off insurgents who were attacking his convoy; not Marine material perhaps, but a valuable member of the military.

Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a need for a larger military and more variety in the type of troops required.

The United States should never use private contractors to secure areas taken by our military.

Read history again
If you'll recall, the United States was unable to form a democracy until they had rid themselves of foreign interference. Should it be different in any other nation?

If Iran would leave Iraq alone...

And France in 1775 did not have weapons that could kill millions in one day

What a jerk.

Peace Corps Volunteers
Why not put all those Peace Corps volunteers perform non-combat roles in the military?

Sums it all up
That's a truly amazing statement. After everything the United States has done, the problem is that Iran won't "leave Iraq alone".

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