Friday, August 01, 2008


One of the fallacies of the Volunteer Army is that it is successful as an American Institution. Let's face it, few Americans know much about the Institution and participation very minuscule. It is only successful in terms of a mercenary force paid to fight our wars. I have all kind of examples of how most are out of touch. Here's a recent one. A good buddy, a vet, had not even heard of Stop-Loss, an egregious program fostered upon active army soldiers who have done their duty and are ready to depart the scene. They can't; a voluntary Army suddenly is no longer voluntary. Why Stop-Loss? Cannon fodder so to speak; filling the ranks because of shortfalls and the desire to keep experienced soldiers, even against their will. If my friend had never hear of this, those so much uninterested as most Americans, surely haven't.

The active Army, fighting two wars is pushed to the limits, repetitive tours are more the rule than the exception, trouble is everywhere; if not broken, it is close, in my view. The Army is desperate and one of the programs they are experimenting with to attract soldiers is one called The Advantage Fund. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea and I'm for it: giving deserving youngsters who have joined up, a helping hand to buy their first home or start a business. This is a latest wrinkle of throwing money at the problem. Just as an innocuous and idealistic aside, whatever happened to the incentive of patriotism, serving my country, giving back. Forget it. Those ideals have militarily gone the way of brown boots in the Army.

The Advantage Fund is traded for five years in the Army. It is a bonus.
Although this is a pilot program, it underscores the severity of desperation in today's military: try anything to get in bodies. The Advantage Fund has to be attractive but why it and other incentives have their limitations is that when they become the sole reason for someone joining up, then it is somewhat tainted, not from the soldiers' standpoint but from those who dreamed up the idea. Part of the military is emotion: to fight, to put oneself in harm's way. These soldier emotions will hardly be surfaced by incentives like seed money to buy a house , etc.

We only have to look at the Marines to realize how to make recruiting work. They appeal to "being the best, the elite, the few, the proud while the Army throws money at enticing the hesitant.

This is not to disparage those youngsters who choose the Army way. It is taking a chance but obviously they deem it worth it. And, who can blame them, based on their prospects. WHY THEY JOIN is the subject of a a terrific article in the NY Review of Books that I commend to everyone.

Why do they join? Health care, educational benefits, nothing else to do, run out of options--a multitude of reasons with occasionally some voicing patriotism or invoking 9-11. They are youngsters that at least have to be affirmed for joining. The flip side of the coin is that it is pretty pathetic that we have come to this; offering money for blood and life. God bless our troops.

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