ENTERING THE 21ST CENTURY
As the United States Military marches into the 21st century, it is time to take a selected look at the past and how it has shaped the current force. In 2001, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which the United States is a member, turned 50 years old, as did the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). These institutions represent two areas of significant growth during the past 50 years in our nations military history.
The men and women of our Armed Forces serve around the globe, participating in numerous missions, including warfighting, peacekeeping, antiterrorism, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and other less-traditional roles. With increasing frequency, the U.S. Military has been called upon to take part in multi-national peacekeeping forces, under NATO or United Nations leadership. The frequency and duration of such worldwide deployments has increased tremendously, especially during the past 10 years. At a time when the nations military force has downsized, more men and women are being called to serve away from home. The relatively high operating tempo with its consequent family separations affects the quality of life, for Servicemembers and their families.
The All Volunteer Force, in existence for almost 30 years, has proven itself successful, yet ever so challenging to maintain. To do so, the military attracts quality members from a broad demographic base, including women and minorities in increasing proportions. With 50 years of DACOWITS advocating for the inclusion of women in the nations Armed Forces, the opportunity for women to play significant roles in each of the Services has never been better. Certainly, the implementation of the Direct Ground Combat Rule in the 1990sopening more specialties and positions to females than beforeprovides for broader career paths for Servicewomen. This, in turn, improves chances for promotion to the highest ranks. In addition, the commitment to Servicemembers and their families, particularly quality-of-life matters, makes the military a viable option for more and more women. And, although by all accounts women are underutilized in the Services, they fill proportionally more jobs in the military today than at any time in history.
There are many benefits to becoming a member of the Armed Forces, but it is not without burdens. The tradeoffs between the benefits and costs of military service are at the center of the quality of life experienced by both members and their families. Military quality of life is not trivial as it impacts recruiting and retention, which are important to maintaining a quality force that is ready to serve at all times. As the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Dr. David Chu, put it: " the more valued our soldiers and families feel, the more likely they are to stay with us and more likely to join us."[footnote 1]
Recently, there have been a number of quality-of-life initiatives implemented and additional ones are always being considered. However, the challenge to providing sufficient benefits to the military community is that quality of life is subjective and encompasses a broad range of issues. For example, housing, job satisfaction, compensation, facilities, health care, operating tempo, child care, and other factors affect an individuals perception of his or her quality of life. Each person places unique values on the many different aspects that influence how someone feels about a military career. Compounding the differences between people are the lifetime changes that occur during a Servicemembers career, particularly the changes in priorities that may coincide with marriage and family. Further, larger issues such as societal changesfor example, the increase in dual-income/dual-professional couplescan affect quality of life.
As Undersecretary of Defense, Dr. Chu, asked recently "Are we providing the kind of environment that an American family in the early 21st century will find attractive, or are we demanding so much that it is so badly undercutting family life that we are turning away many talented people ?" This is not an easy question to address. There is a continual need to balance the costs and benefits of military service. As DoD has experienced a large increase in deployments, the toll on Servicemembers and families has increased accordingly.[footnote 2] However, the Services are faced with the potential of significant readiness and monetary costs associated with maintaining high-quality working and living conditions, sometimes costs above and beyond the capabilities and resources of the Services.
Some of the traditional quality-of-life initiatives include increases in compensation, including pay, monetary benefits (e.g., allowances), and other benefits (e.g., commissary privileges). A new cash allowance was established in 2001, the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance. It is designed to help a small proportion of the lowest income troops, especially Servicemembers and their families who are stationed overseas. Americans living abroad are not eligible for food stamps; this new benefit helps to fill that gap.
Improving housing and military facilities are at the top of the quality-of-life list today. Initiatives currently being considered are:
Less tangible, is a recently-implemented Army policy that allows parents of high school seniors to request remaining in their assignments until their teen graduates. Several hundred requests were granted in the first few months of the policy.[footnote 3] Another new initiative, an Internet site offering a Family Readiness Tool Kitproviding support for Guard and Reserve families during deploymentswill become available in FY 2002. Members of the National Guard and Reserves, increasingly called upon to participate with active forces, typically live farther away from their units. Thus, families of Guardsmen and Reservists are further removed from the unit and others who are in a position to provide information and support, particularly when members are deployed. Even relatively small changes, such as these, show that the military values its members and families.
One challenge that the military must face is how to project an image of viable career contender for all Americans regardless of economic conditions. Although military service is a noble calling, it is not necessarily a popular career choice. Middle class youth may be dissuaded from a term of service in favor of a less-restrictive and demanding civilian job or the opportunity to pursue a college degree. As such, quality-of-life initiatives are important to the militarys image as it competes with civilian employers and colleges for applicants.
The Department of Defense addressed this area during the recent Quadrennial Defense Review with a view toward revitalizing the "Social Compact" that exists between the military and members and their families. The Social Compact must clearly recognize the changing demographics and lifestyles of families, and the reciprocal commitment the Services and the American public have with military personnel.
As the smaller force of the future places greater cognitive demands on and requires versatility from Servicemembers, personnel recruitment and maintenance must adapt accordingly. As always, reliance on all demographic and social segments in the United States is imperative. Traditionally, African-Americans have participated in the military at higher proportions than their overall representation in the general population, but Hispanics tend to be underrepresented. Asian-Americans are playing a larger role in the military today, slightly overrepresented among the enlisted ranks, still slightly underrepresented in the officer corps.
Certainly, the preceding chapters have suggested that there is potential for even greater military participation by women. Military readiness and performance depend upon multiple factors. As such, all Servicemembers should be valued for the contributions and strengths they bring to the force.
College graduates, although well represented among the officer corps and among the Reserves are underrepresented in the military's enlisted ranks. This trend is significant, not so much as an equity concern but because an increasing number of high school graduates are college bound. The Department of Defense must learn to attract recruits from the growing segment of enlistment-aged youth with college aspirations.
The U.S. military is increasing in diversity though it does not reflect completely the youth population. Selection standards and policies as well as personal preferences contribute to the extent to which the military demographically mirrors American society. Nonetheless, population proportions are an important benchmark for gauging the attractiveness, if not the relevance, of the military to all segments of society. In addition to tracking these statistics, the trends captured in the Population Representation report compel us to be aware of the dynamics of the youth population.
[footnote 2] Garamone, J. Shelton Voices Readiness, Quality of Life Concerns (Washington, DC: American Forces Press Service, September 6, 2001). [back to paragraph]
3] Williams, R. Army, Schools Seek Easy Transitions for Military Youth
(Washington, DC: American Forces Press Service, August 20, 2001). [back