Best Defense

Comment of the day: Does the AVF immorally exploit soldiers?

What a great bunch of comments you all posted yesterday. That’s not just me flattering you — Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq actually wrote an item about you all. Here’s a comment from "IRR Soldier," posted in yesterday’s discussion of PTSD issues, that puts the argument about the all-volunteer force (AVF) in a way I ...

The U.S. Army/Flickr
The U.S. Army/Flickr

What a great bunch of comments you all posted yesterday. That’s not just me flattering you — Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq actually wrote an item about you all. Here’s a comment from "IRR Soldier," posted in yesterday’s discussion of PTSD issues, that puts the argument about the all-volunteer force (AVF) in a way I hadn’t see before.

The issue is that the current AVF must maximize the deployment days from a minimum number of people. This puts the unit’s numbers ahead of what is good for the soldier, the unit and the Army. We have deployed thousands who first line leaders knew should never have been deployed (see: front page of today’s WaPo for the latest installment). We have deployed soldiers in the throes of medical, emotional and family crises.

The AVF and the 4 year enlistment and 8 year MSO it necessitated, ensures that first term enlistees will see repeated combat deployments before they have a chance to bow out and go home with honor.

As stated above, in many CMFs and units, a 4 year hitch = 2 combat deployments on active duty and likely a 3rd in the IRR. With the USMC 7 month deployments, this adds up to even more. Is this asking too much and is it immoral? My answer is yes on both counts – especially since we’ve known since 1943 that >180 days in combat really messes with your head!

A draftee/volunteer hybrid force would mitigate the toll of repeated and prolonged deployments. The 2 year term for draftees and 3 year term for volunteers along with Army policy ensured that soldiers would not be sent back unless they affirmatively volunteered to reup, extend or go back.

40 years later we are handcuffed by the AVF and condemning first term soldiers to possibly 3 deployments in their 8 year MSO. This is a hell of a lot of sacrifice for so few. The moral policy is to allow our young soldiers to serve a tour and then decide whether its time to go home with honor or stay in the Army. Instead, there is no light and the end of the tunnel and we do everything legally and pharmacologically we can to get them back in combat as soon as we can.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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