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United States Military Voluntarily Imploding


Brian Mast and Stu Scheller at the State of the Union 2023
Congressman Brian Mast and Stu Scheller

America’s all-volunteer military is slowly shrinking in size and talent despite leadership’s prevention efforts. Without new leadership and ideas, war inevitably becomes the only safeguard against America’s pending military implosion.


The Commandant of the Marine Corps addressed current military recruitment failures in November’s U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine entitled, Recruiting Requires Bold Changes. The Commandant identified the American people’s degrading trust in the military as the biggest obstacle to recruitment. Current data supports his statement. According to Gallup, Americans’ faith in military officers has degraded to the lowest levels ever recorded. Yet the Commandant, like most senior military leaders, understands the problems but lacks the insight and courage to recommend leadership changes. Last month the Assistant Commandant, during a panel on the all-volunteer force, reinforced this observation. Unsurprisingly, the panel never discussed recommendations for changes in leadership, despite the general officer stating, all options are on the table.”


Recruiting is complicated, but despite what the old guard will have you believe, young Americans are not lazy or stupid. They can sense hypocrisy. On the one hand, military leaders preach higher purpose, sense of duty, honor, and other noble virtues. But with the other hand, they rack up long lists of failures and double standards. There can be no virtuous call to service, if the leadership of the service doesn’t live by its own virtues. Thus, it’s not surprising that only 9 percent of Americans aged seventeen to twenty-four, when surveyed by the Defense Department in 2022, showed a propensity to serve in the military. Is the new generation’s reluctance to join the military based in ignorance and apathy—or wisdom?


Modern military recruitment and retention techniques are hinged around the all-volunteer model created post Vietnam. Following backlash from Vietnam’s draft, President Nixon organized a panel to discuss the future of military recruitment. While many influential people had a voice in the debates about conscription versus volunteer military service, the argument of economist Milton Friedman was the impetus for change. Friedman wrote: “The cost of a volunteer army, properly calculated, would almost surely be less than of a conscripted army.” This logic has sustained the military model into modern day.


Fifty years following Nixon’s decision, in September 2022, during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee, the ranking member of the military personnel subcommittee, Senator Tom Tillis stated,

“It's becoming clear the all-volunteer force that has served our country well for the last 50 years is at an inflection point…The truth of the matter is, unless we do things differently and do things for the better, I believe every service except for the Space Force is at risk of missing their recruiting mission over the next year, and we need to act.”

Senator Tillis, who like others on the committee lacks military experience, failed recognizing how the blended retirement model, recently implemented in the military, will negatively impact retention. Military members entering the service after 1 January 2018 are no longer beholden to the twenty-year retirement model. Starting last year, service members under the blended retirement model can begin exiting without financial penalty. This new generation has a 401K (“blended retirement”) transferable to any organization. Past generations within the all-volunteer model were influenced by financial pressure to sustain service towards a twenty-year retirement.

Economics, much like the influence it had on the creation of the all-volunteer force, drove the military towards the 401K system. But when financial motivations compelled the shift, military leaders failed modifying how senior commanders treated talented service members with 8 to 18 years of service. In the past, leaders took for granted middle management’s dedication while working towards retirement. This is no longer the case. If there is no offsetting financial penalty, why would service members work 18-hour days building power-point slides with vague purpose, withstand beratement, and move every three years when other opportunities await? Add this combustible issue up with misguided COVID policies, questionable inclusion policies, and a lack of accountability for senior leadership, and the system begins painting a grim picture for the future of the all-volunteer military force.

Military service should be about a larger selfless sacrifice, but it’s hard for leadership to stand on principal about selfless service when financial incentives drove the creation of the all-volunteer force and then later shifted it to the blended retirement model. This, exacerbated by leadership’s inability for honest self-reflection, makes any calls to duty and honor ring hollow.

Temporary incentives focused on recruiting such as lowering standards, waiving tattoo restrictions, amending previous disqualifying medical conditions, and offering marginally higher financial incentives will not be enough to guarantee an increase in dedicated volunteers or offset falling retention rates. Without dramatic changes to current leadership, the bleeding will continue.

At a certain point, military leadership will be left with only one option to prevent the implosion of the all-volunteer force: war. The glorifying war call brings in surprising levels of personnel and resources while simultaneously marginalizing scrutiny. While military leaders serve politicians, and cannot start a war by themselves, their advice on the matter could, as it has previously, tip the scales.


The next President must select a Secretary of Defense who understands the systemic problems facing our military culture. All options should be on the table, including dramatic reshuffling of senior officers. The United States should not seek war. It should reset, reform, and rearm the military. The United States military has the best pool of talent from which to recruit. It has the largest national military budget, and it has the best training facilities on the planet. Creating a culture of accountability, competition, and victory starts with new leadership.



Stuart Scheller is a former USMC infantry officer and author of Crisis of Command: How We Lost Trust and Confidence in America’s Generals and Politicians.



This article was written on February 4, 2023; an edited version was published on realcleardefense.com


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6 תגובות


I believe you are missing a big part of the problem.. the public education system has been taken over by marxist, communists that have been conditioned over years.. they have been working to destroy america from within..its been running wild for years..demoralizing americans..people are discouraged now, from even claiming to be, an american..today we are hyphenated americans, african- american, mexican- american, irish- american, italian- american, chinese- american, pacific islander the list is long, and all it does is divide americans.....when i was a kid, the marine recruiting posters were simple: " pride in america? Ask a Marine" there is very little, pride in america now..we have coddled and spoiled our youth, that have grown up, to coddle and spoil thier…

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Jon Stephens
Jon Stephens
09 בפבר׳ 2023

As a Marine vet, my precious Gboys occasionally express an interest in my service. After 2 Iraq tours and witnessing the Afghan surrender (aka cluster f). Further, the lack of accountability by our military leadership for these failures is unsat. Now, witness the insane monetary/weapons support for Ukraine, a frivolous and unfocused missions.

I refuse to recommend service in our military, this is the end of volunteering for public service/sacrifice. GFL. Semper Fi.

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The American families that provide their sons and daughters to the military tend to hold an ethos of traditional American values. The commanding heights of the military and pentagon are steering the armed forces away from that. Military leadership picked a side on the war that is defining future American core values -and it’s the wrong side. The United States military is not, and should not be modeled after a Silicon Valley Corporation with no accountability that is guided by CRT and equity.

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JulieDM
JulieDM
08 בפבר׳ 2023

You are so right about the skeptism for people who probably would have joined in the past. I have always been strongly pro-military but watching what happens to enlisted versus mis-conduct by the general officer staff has definitely colored my view. I have a young grandson who has already been wearing camo, playing recon and has tons of play guns as well as his first BB gun. He asked me questions about the military all the time because he knows I follow veteran podcasters and my father was a WWII Army vet. I will always support his choices but I certainly will not encourage him to join if the system stays as it is currently. (Btw - he wants to…

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Kevin Carleo
Kevin Carleo
08 בפבר׳ 2023

I agree that the "Temporary incentives focused on recruiting such as lowering standards, waiving tattoo restrictions, amending previous disqualifying medical conditions, and offering marginally higher financial incentives will not be enough to guarantee an increase in dedicated volunteers or offset falling retention rates.", but more importantly it also weakens the talent pool for those that enter our Ranks...weakening it further. Something our future SecDef (nudge to Stu) will have to deal with and face head on.

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