This article by Thomas E. Ricks appears in the New York Times published on July 9, 2012 and it starts by quoting the words of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal who is the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal explains that when a nation sends its soldiers to war, every citizen back at home is at risk and is somehow involved in the battle. He became the first high-profile officer in the recent past to contend that the all-volunteer army is not essentially good for the country or the military. America still seems resolute on retaining a formidable army, which make us think of the maintenance costs and creating a draft that is superior and more unbiased than the Vietnam-era recruitment scheme. The draft that involves both males and females, should offer the new recruits coming out of high school at least three options. An example is choosing 18 months of military service with minimal wages but outstanding post-service benefits that include free college tuition. Such new recruits could do low skill tasks such as lawn mowing, paperwork, and painting that generally outsourced at high costs. If they choose to stay, they could upgrade to professional soldiers with weapon training, better pay, and higher benefits.
Thomas continues to argue that those recruits who do not want to serve anymore in the army could perform civilian national service, such as rebuilding infrastructure, or aiding the elderly for a period of about 2 years and an equally low wage but still receive the similar post-service benefits as paid tuition. Those who choose the military all together should not receive any form of benefits but could apply for what minimal the government have can take it. This new kind of draft scheme would save the government money through civilian national service and it leaves professional soldiers to do tasks that are more meaningful.
Some people would argue that there would be no way of catering for all the people that would apply for such a program but Thomas argues that this would in fact offer the government with cheap labor that could be used to perform such civilian service tasks as delivering meals to elderly shut-ins. If too many people applied for the 18-month military scheme, the drafters could come up with a lottery system where those that do not qualify could do the civilian national service. The motive of the new draft would be to save running costs since the volunteer soldiers are paid well to cater for their family needs. 18-year old high school graduates for less would perform most of the labor outsourced to the private sector. These kind of restructuring would significantly trim down drafting and allowance costs. In addition, the civilian service scheme would also reduce government expenditure spent on outsourcing basic services.
The low-cost labor available to the federal government would lower the existing recruits’ costs and its allowance commitments especially if the law allows the federal managers to use the civilian service as found conceivable. For instance, the custodians could be energetic 19 year olds making $15,000 plus room and board, instead of tired 50 year olds making the $106,329 top base wage for the city’s public school custodians before overtime. Unions representing the federal, state, and municipal workers understand that a huge budget crunch may hit the federal government in some years to come. Therefore, such savings may set up a new non- profession rank of inexpensive and youthful workforce, which is way of safeguarding existing jobs for grown-up, more skillful, and less itinerant union workers. Thomas concludes that having a draft might make Americans think twice before going to war and invading such territories as Iraq, since it would save the state a lot in terms of tears, blood, and money.
Thomas E. Ricks has a very good argument against overspending on military tasks and he seems biased against most of the decisions made by the previous and current military operations. For instance, towards the end, he criticizes the army invasion of Iraq and he does not find it necessary to have such a “serious military force” that requires many resources to maintain. It is worth noting that Thomas does not shy away from the fact that army is a useful and that is he does not bicker about dismantling it or reducing its numbers like in Europe. He simply provides a better scheme of drafting new recruits into the military that would save the government many resources in terms of dollars and work force.
I agree with Thomas that the current drafting process needs to be evaluated and restructured but some of the propositions he makes seem impractical. He proposes that the high school graduates who choose 18 months of military service get post service benefits such as free college tuition but he does not consider the cost of such “post service benefits.” He gives an example of offering free tuition for those who choose 18 months of military service at minimal pay. This in reality is a misguided notion since the government will eventually “pay” for that low-cost service in the form of scholarships. The situation will be worse if the goal of most recruits is to get access to the free tuition through the military service. The same case goes for the civilian service beneficiaries who would join such volunteer schemes just to get the tuition aid. The young people asked to perform some of the tasks may be less skilled in some of the area the author proposes such as rebuilding infrastructure and teaching.
Most of the work outsourced to private sector benefits more people than the author views. The work may be menial but the workers also have families who depend on them unlike the recruits he proposes. Some of the recruits may already be such beneficiaries and when you deny the people in the private sector the chance to do such jobs, the unemployment rate is bound to rise. The author claims the programs and scheme will save money for the government but in reality, the cost would not change and it may even increase. The cost of fulfilling the promised benefits to the recruits who complete their time in the military may even be higher. In addition, the “19, energetic” recruits may not be as effective in their work as the “50, tired” veteran who has a cool head and values his work more in the longer future than the youth waiting for the chance to get to college soon.
When implementing such drafting as proposed by Thomas, definitely a large pool of high school graduates will gladly apply for the chance to join the military. As I mentioned, I agree with the author that the draft process requires restructuring and there is need to reduce the costs of running the military and the government through civilian services. However putting the measures as Thomas proposes would not solve the later. There are better and practical ways of making such volunteer programs more attractive without necessarily involving monetary benefits. Such a way would be first priority in job consideration for all those who have served in the military or civilian services schemes. This means that anyone who has been involved in any of those services should receive more consideration in both the public and private sectors when they are applying for a job after they leave the service. This would run down to the type of training and discipline they would receive when serving the nation that would make them attractive employees. The government could also enact such an act for public companies when they are recruiting new staff members.
I also agree with the author that some of the menial jobs done by the soldiers should be left to the less skilled recruits so that the professional soldiers can do more constructive tasks suitable for their skills. The author says that 18 year-olds could perform much of the labor currently contracted out to the private sector for much less pay. This is true if the financial benefits that Thomas proposes do not fully happen as he writes but are modified to reduce the direct financial benefits in favor of another non-monetary benefit. I also agree that if there were a superfluity of applicants for such a scheme, a lottery system would be the best to use to select those that qualify.
In conclusion, from my point of view, I find that a hybrid of Thomas E. Ricks’ proposed restructuring of the military combined with a few aspects of the current system and the proposal of non-monetary benefits would reduce the cost of maintaining and running the army. It is true that setting up a new non-profession category of cheap and youthful workforce is way of safeguarding existing jobs for grown-up, more skillful, and more immobile union workers. In addition, concentrating less on military activities could help reduce suspicions against American motives and therefore reduce war and eventually the cost, blood loss, and tears will decrease.