Monday, August 26, 2013

Our Un-Volunteer Military
     Since 1973 the United States has had what is known as an All-Volunteer military.  I have suggested that it is really a mercenary military made up predominantly of poor kids and patriots from the third and fourth socioeconomic quintiles of our population: the first quintile is AWOL.  Recruits who often receive substantial bonuses for joining are tested and trained to perform military tasks.  They sign a contract and take an oath.  The contract specifies that they will serve for a certain period of time......unless....unless they choose not to.  Unless they choose to become deserters.
     Desertion is a serious crime, punishable by death in a "time of war".  Private Eddie Slovik was executed for desertion in 1945.  Most Americans are surprised to learn that we have deserters from our All-Volunteer Force and the Pentagon would rather not discuss the issue.  Nevertheless, desertion rates for the army have ranged from a high of 3949 in 2000 and 4800 in 2007 to a recent low of 1083 last year.  From 1997 to 2012 desertion rates per 1000 servicemembers are approximately 6.91 for the army, 0.13 for the air force, 5.88 for the navy, and 8.31 for the Marine Corps.  In aggregate these rates represent five to nine thousand volunteers "un-volunteering" and becoming deserters every year.  Most of that time we were a nation at war.
     There are both financial and moral implications to this reality.  It costs a lot of money to recruit, train, feed, house, and clothe a servicemember. most analysts place this cost at a minimum of $100,000 in the first year to develop this recruit into an asset,  At that rate the army wrote off $480 million of taxpayer assets in 2007.  To make matters worse, the army continues to pay some soldiers who are AWOL and deserters.  A recent Army Audit Agency report (July 13.2013) states "Between January 2010 and July 2012, the army made over 9,000 payments to absentee soldiers totaling $16 million".  Desertion rates in the other branches create similar problems.
     The moral implications of desertion are more troubling than the financial.  Notwithstanding the military's claim to being highly disciplined, its response to desertions is ineffective at best and hypocritical at worst.  Despite the fact that the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows deserters to be court martialed and conviction could result in execution, the military chooses to simply drop deserters from its rolls; the corporate equivalent of writing off an asset.  Even in the rare cases when the military threatens court martial the deserter can request "discharge in lie of court martial" which is uniformly granted with a meaningless (in our society) other than honorable discharge.  The penalty for desertion from the National Guard or reserve is even more feckless; they don't even call it desertion.  It is called "unsatisfactory participation".  This systematic failure by the military to enforce standards and protect its assets causes those servicemembers who do uphold their obligations to lose respect for and trust in their superiors and the institution.  Policy and bureaucracy take the easy way out and morale, cohesion, discipline, and trust suffer.
     When we choose to make failure inconsequential, we invite it because failure is the path of least resistance..