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May 12, 2007

BRIAN MOCKENHAUPT HAS AN INTERESTING LOOK AT ARMY TRAINING in the latest Atlantic Monthly. There's lots of interesting stuff, but the parts worth breaking out have to do with how society isn't living up to the Army's ideals, not the other way around:

Young people are fatter and weaker. They eat more junk food, watch more television, play more video games, and exercise less. They are more individualistic and less inclined to join the military. And with the unemployment rate hovering near historic lows, they have other choices. . . .

Every platoon sergeant and squad leader I spoke with told me a version of this story: Many of the new privates are smart and eager; they’re quick learners and they know what they’ve gotten themselves into, joining the infantry in wartime. But too many are physically weak, are undisciplined, or have mental and emotional problems that should have gotten them screened out at basic training, if not earlier by the recruiter. . . .

The Army’s problem, however, is really just the nation’s problem writ small. The number of Americans serving in the military has steadily shrunk from more than 1 in 10 during World War II to fewer than 1 in 100 today. The all-volunteer military has allowed most Americans to distance themselves from national service, forcing the Army in particular to work harder and spend more to get the people it needs. As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in another context, “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Until more Americans are more willing, more able, or perhaps more compelled to serve, the Army must maintain an effective all-volunteer force with the people it has and the limited number of additional people it can recruit. And that larger conundrum is beyond the power of any generals, captains, or drill sergeants to solve.

I think it's a poor reflection on how we're bringing up kids and teenagers, and on civilian/military relations in general.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Lunday begs to differ:

I retired in Jan 2001, however, I still work with these soldiers in a contract job. Your copy of a post regarding their, shall we say, less than optimum physique, is way overstated. Tell ya what, pick a day I have a group out here and you can run with em. And these are the 24 to 38 year olds, CPTs and COLs - not the 18 to 20 year olds that leave basic.

I think they could out run, out lift and out 'hump' me (btw, hump means hike with a Ruck Sack) except when I was their age (gotta say that ya know,,,, it's a guy thing). These guys/gals are the best we have, and they are awesome.

The longest race I ever ran in was a 10k, and I considered it a victory the way Saddam considered Gulf War I a victory -- at the end, I was still alive, and hadn't puked. I'm not really built for running. [What are you built for? -- ed. Blogging! And . . . er, never mind.]

Meanwhile, reader Rashad Mahmood emails:

Look, you can't just explain away incentives by blaming it on parents. There is a simple way to increase the number and quality of volunteers for the army. Pay them more.

That's true. I was commenting more on the physical condition and discipline aspects. It's also true, however, that if society valued military service more, the psychic income involved would go up, and that's a factor as well, as demonstrated by the vast numbers of twentysomethings who toil away in rock bands despite the generally nonremunerative character of that work.

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