NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 29, 2006

The all-volunteer military of the United States has become the world's strongest fighting force, attracting recruits who are better educated and more skilled than those who served under the U.S. military draft, says Bernard D. Rostker, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation.

Bringing the military to this level has been an evolutionary process, with success deriving from being able to accurately identify key factors, says Rostker, including:

  • Realization that the military had to compete aggressively in the civilian labor market for American youth -- and had to do so with the right tools based on market research and statistical analysis.
  • The need of quantitative analysis to test, adjust and evaluate policies; almost every change to the all-volunteer force has been made only after research demonstrated its likely effect.
  • Implementation of studies on enlistee test scores and job performance, resulting in an emphasis on quality attracted capable people and led to the increasing professionalism of the military.
  • Providing financial resources large enough to accomplish three things at once: support pay raises that keep pace with both inflation and civilian-sector pay increases; provide resources for advertising, recruiters, bonuses and educational benefits; and fund the military retirement program and quality-of-life initiatives.

Overall, the all-volunteer force has shown it can be successful during periods of conflict as well as during peacetime, says Rostker.  Nevertheless, the sustained conflicts in the Middle East pose obstacles not faced before.  Recruiting is beginning to prove difficult, and there are no guarantees with a volunteer force.  Only time will tell if the current level of operations can be sustained into the future.

Source: Bernard D. Rostker, "Steady Under Fire," Rand Corporation, Rand Review, Fall 2006.

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