Rant of the Day, Monday, April 25, 2005
"Nationwide enrollment in the Army's Reserve Officers' Training Corps has slipped more than 16 percent over the past two school years, leaving the program, which trains and commissions more than six of every 10 new Army officers each year, with its fewest participants in nearly a decade. The decline includes a drop of 10 percent from the 2003-04 school year to the term ending this spring. According to the Army's Cadet Command at Fort Monroe, Va., which supervises ROTC, 26,566 students are enrolled in the program now, down from 29,618 last year and 31,765 in 2002-03, the first full school year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Pre-Sept. 11 enrollments were also higher than they are now." Washington Post
, April 23, 2005.
The uniformed services obtain officers from three sources: military acadamies, ROTC, and Officer Candidate School. A relative handful of other officers obtain direct commissions through professional qualifications, such as medical doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and chaplains.
The recent news that recruiting enlisted soldiers was declining for the active Army and Army Reserve didn't really surprise me. I don't have any definite research data on this subject, but based on my experience, the enlisted force is pretty much a reflection of American society. Yes, minorities are over-represented, but I think that is a result of young men and women who see the military as better opportunity that what's available in their communities.
By and large, most enlisted soldiers join the military for a wide variety and mixture of reasons – for college tuition, travel, family tradition, or a sense adventure. I met very few enlisted soldiers who joined the service only because they felt a deep sense of patriotism.
The enlisted force is fairly representative of America's diverse political views. Maybe there is a higher percentage of Republicans among senior NCOs, but I think that is a result of socialization in the military culture.
The officer corps, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly conservative. Almost every officer I knew told me he sought military service out of a sense of duty and patriotism. Of all the officers I knew during my career, only one - a young captain I served with in Bosnia - identified himself as a liberal. (He was also the only soldier - officer or enlisted - I ever met with an Ivy-League degree.) However, this captain shared the same motive in seeking military service as his conservative brother-officers. He felt he had a personal duty to serve his country in uniform before beginning a civilian career.
Now we have news proving Bush's War is becoming increasingly unpopular among the traditional junior-officer procurement pool: college-age conservatives. Yet these are the same people who, in poll after poll, say they support Bush's Iraq policies. Amazing.
Or maybe not so amazing. The same thing happened during the Vietnam War. Officer recruitment fell to such alarming numbers that the Army repeatedly lowered qualification standards for Officer Candidate School so they could recruit junior officers from the enlisted and NCO ranks to offset the declining ROTC procurement pool as college students walked away from ROTC.
In our collective memory, Americans remember college students protesting the Vietnam War and assume they were all "liberals." In reality, college Republicans found the Vietnam War just as distasteful and unpopular as their classmates on the left. While they may not have been out on the protest barricades, they most certainly voted against the Vietnam War with their feet by shunning ROTC and its subsequent military obligations.
Richard Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, two sociologists and former Army officers, discussed the problems of officer procurement during the Vietnam War in their 1979 book, “Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army.”
In their research, they identified the sources of junior-officer procurement in the American, British and German armies. The two European armies tended to obtain many junior officers from wealthy, upper-class backgrounds, while the United States Army obtained junior offices from an almost exclusively middle-class and working-class procurement pool. In fact, their research revealed that except during World War II, the American elites almost never
serve in the military - which goes a long way to explaining why I met only one soldier with an Ivy-League education during a 27-year military career.
So now we find that again, just as during the Vietnam War, college conservatives are voting with their feet in the face of an unpopular war. Junior officers and junior NCOs are the seed-corn of the Army. Leaders are made, not born. You don’t develop good senior officers unless you can recruit good junior officers. I suspect that the most devastating impact of a diminishing officer procurement pool will be felt fifteen years from now, when today’s new company-grade officers become field-grades.
I’m not attacking the political leanings of the officer corps. I served with many fine officers who were rock-ribbed conservatives, and I would gladly do so again. One of the best officers I ever served under was a very conservative - and highly decorated - colonel who regularly called me “Commissar” whenever our talk turned to politics. But that man was a colonel, with years of experience and maturity on his face, not a young college student.
I see a disturbing amount of hypocrisy when I see that college conservatives support Bush’s War but abandon ROTC. I strongly suspect that if today’s foot-voting college conservatives faced a military draft - and we’re just one more foreign policy blunder away from turning that possibility into a necessity - they would be shutting down the campus.
That colonel who called me “Commissar” was an ROTC student in the 1960s who knew Vietnam combat duty awaited him after graduation day. He served there with distinction as a junior officer. He was politically conservative but no damn hypocrite. So maybe there is good news in this article after all: those young conservatives voting with their feet on ROTC while they vocally support Bush's War aren’t really officer material in the first place.