Blonde moment

And the silver spoon.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Military staffing and compensation

My dad once remarked that military service is the closest thing to slavery the modern United States will tolerate. I add, but it is now voluntary slavery. As I addressed above, there are many motives to join the military, but money makes all the altruistic motives sweeter. Every service member has an imaginary line drawn in the sand: “If the military sucks any more then this, no deal.” Marines have a high tolerance for suckiness, Airmen have a low tolerance for suckiness. The recruiter’s job is to get as close to the suckiness line as possible without loosing the recruit.

For some people, the sweetener is the branch of service, “Air Force or nothing.” For others it’s a job, “Medical Staff or nothing.” Some prefer a base, “Basic and Ft. This, or no deal.” Some want to go through basic with their buddies, “Basic with Joe or no deal.” Still, others, it is a signing bonus, “$5,000; No way! Oh, you mean $15,000. Sure.”

Certainly, some of the suckiness qualities are easier to detect then others. Certainly, someone who has a low tolerance for suckiness will not visit a Marine recruiter. The job thing, the friend thing, and the base thing are all also fairly easy to determine, once conversations start getting serious. It’s the money thing that is difficult to determine.

Enlisted men (generic) all get paid on the military pay scale. The military pay scale is your typical step and ladder scale. Get higher rank, move up, stay longer, move across. An E-1 on his first day of basic will earn the same regardless of branch or job. The only variation is a signing bonus. A recruiter does not have to offer the bonus, to my understanding. So, it seems to be one of those not required things.

Now, as the War on Terror continues and long deployments become more frequent, potential recruit’s suckiness lines go up. And the only really good way to obtain voluntary recruits is money. It requires an act of Congress to bump up military pay, so increased bonus or education money seem to be an option.

In a voluntary military, there comes a time when the money offered does not equal the suckiness of work required, and so recruitment and retention will fall noticeably. The government can reduce military commitments, increase pay more, or draft. When there is a draft, all perks, be it branch, job, base, or money, go away or are sharply reduced.

After Vietnam, the military became all volunteer. This decision was political, not financial, in nature. And there was no experience with a volunteer military. Guys were drafted for World War 2, guys were drafted for Korea, and guys were drafted for Vietnam. If we were to re-instate the draft, we would have a problem with all of the current enlistees. Someone ending their first contract at the age of 26 who had become an E-5 might say, “What the heck do you mean there isn’t a signing bonus to re-up?” Well, the military could replace this E-5 with a draftee. However, the military would also be loosing the experience of someone who had some motivation for learning the job properly.

You see, to use my father’s example, drafted slaves are less expensive then volunteer slaves. Drafted slaves are cheaper because they don’t want to be there, they don’t want to do their jobs, and they don’t have the passion it takes to learn the job well and advance. Volunteer slaves are compensated at an amount, through bonuses or perks, that they are OK with their location, jobs, and would have the passion it takes to learn the job well and advance.

It is my personal preference to keep the perks in place and continue a volunteer military. I would rather have guys around my husband who are OK with their location, jobs, and have some motivation, even if it is financial, to do their job well and to advance and I’m willing that there be a premium placed on such individuals.

The question of how the military is staffed is currently a question of price and quantity. To this point, it seems the government has been willing to pay the price for people to voluntarily sign up and people are willing to be paid what the government has offered. The differences between the military and other jobs are: 1. you can’t quit if you decide you don’t like it, you have to stick with your contract; and 2. if the military can’t fill positions to meet its commitments, it can draft.

There are several aspects to the draft discussion. Besides quality of service members and compensation, we can talk about for what purpose should we draft (namely, is it OK to have a volunteer service clause) and the price people are willing to pay for the benefits of citizenship (should people not eligible for the draft be able to vote).

As a side note, Mr. Kerry should not be questioning the economic motives of current enlistees. Certainly, enlistees could be going to college or working elsewhere, but have done a cost/benefit analysis and it is currently beneficial for service members to be serving, otherwise they wouldn’t. The question I have is, why is an ivy-league college educated man still serving in the Senate? Could he not get a better paying or more powerful job elsewhere? Oh, wait, Mr. Kerry tried to get a better paying, more powerful job. He can’t. Perhaps he is merely altruistic, after all, his real job is as a kept man.


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