Best Defense

How the All-Volunteer Force undermined accountability in the modern U.S. military

How the All-Volunteer Force undermined accountability in the modern U.S. military

By Capt. Kyle Packard, U.S. Army

Best Defense department of AVF issues

The adoption of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) was a subjective reaction to public opposition to the Vietnam War that has inadvertently stripped away accountability at all levels of the civil-military relationship. Although it is widely viewed as a success both inside and outside the defense establishment, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have exposed its limits. Tactically, the AVF has no peer, however, the last 11 years of war has brought to light several unforeseen strategic consequences that have created an unsustainable relationship between soldier and state.

When framing the problems that have come to define the last decade of conflict, whether it be an archaic personnel system or dishonest civil-military discourse, a lack of accountability is the common thread. When compounded with a reluctance to repeat the emotional isolation of returning Vietnam War veterans, society’s disassociation with military service creates an environment where dissension is perceived as socially taboo. If the majority of America’s sons and daughters served, then the development of a coherent wartime national defense strategy with a viable endgame would be mandatory, thus creating a culture of accountability. Public officials would be held responsible for both their successes and failures through either the ballot box or via civil unrest.

If there is no shared sacrifice, then there is no obligation to maintain accountability. An exclusively professional military has produced an undeniable divide between those that bear the burden of America from those that benefit from its liberties. Without a nation mobilized, absent from the fight was the influx of ingenuity deemed essential to combat ambiguous insurgent networks. Without a shared economic burden, we have soaring national debt with the potential for a balanced budget continually being shifted to the right.

The wealth and prosperity of post-World War II America has fundamentally changed the social contract between citizen and state; the government ensures the wellbeing of a large segment of society yet requires little in return. To rebalance the inequity, all citizens, or those who desire to become citizens, must serve a term of military or civil service. Mr. Ricks, in his New York Times op-ed, provides a salient solution which should serve to spark a national dialogue. I would add that the War Powers Resolution would need to be revised to require Congress to approve, in conjunction with a declaration of war, a shift towards the armed forces to meet wartime manpower demands.

The American viewpoint of compulsory military service as a government-imposed burden has not evolved with the current role of the state. While the technological and special operation requirements of a 21st century military power requires a small standing force, the sacrifices of war, both materially and psychologically, must be universally shared across society. Without unity of effort, America risks inadvertently creating a military caste that sees itself as superior to the citizens its intent is to serve.

Although today’s military has not experienced the postwar pendulum swing of the Vietnam era, a lack of accountability may still hollow the force.

CPT Kyle D. Packard is an U.S. Army infantry officer assigned to Fort Campbell, KY. He has deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan with both conventional and special operations units. He plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2013.