Getting rid of enlistment contracts for a more professional military


Verified Military
Nov 20, 2011
Olympia WA
I first thought of this when I was recently on JBLM at the PX food court and realized just how many “slick” or “fuzzy” sleeves were there. Here we are, just wrapping up over a decade of war, in the middle of a huge down size, and yet that food court was filled with baby faces that had never deployed. How was this possible? I realized that it was based on how we recruit and view military service. We sell it as a starting point, an adventure, college money, temporary service before moving on. We sell it mainly to High School kids from the lower middle class. It’s not a career. You do four years and get massive college benefits and are expected to move on. Even if you re-enlist once or twice, every four years you have a serious decision to make. Can I do four more years? Can I force my family to move again? Am I getting too old for college and starting a new career? Am I going to fall under “up or out” rules?
This lead me to thinking about what could be done about it? I have long said that focusing on HS students to the exclusion of other eligible applicants was not to the benefit of the military. So how do you change that with college grads clearly getting a better employment opportunity with Commissions over enlisting? Then I had the idea, why not get rid of term contracts? You don’t enlist for X years, you simply enlist. If you complete eight years of service (I would make deployment time count 2 or 3 times the actual deployment) you earn the GI Bill and other veteran status benefits. You can’t quit after receiving deployment orders but any other time could be fair game. Got your dream job in the community, leave the military. Want to go to school, leave the military. Realize after a year in that maybe this not the place for you?, leave. Characterization of service could be more than Honorable or not, but rated like a civilian job. Want to use your experience for civilian work? Better strive for excellent and fully successful and not just bide your time and do enough to not get in trouble. This would also provide a counter for the “zero defect” mentality that hamstrings initiative and risk taking, necessary military skills. Receive a minor infraction but rated highly? Better than no infractions and consistently rated minimally successful.
So how would getting rid of enlistments affect the Military? The average age would likely go up. I know some members feel strongly that older = less aggressive, but that has not been my experience. Promotion times would likely slow down. Much less likely that everyone will make E-5 in four and E-6 in six like now. It would also make an even smaller portion of our population veterans. I know this is a negative for the many that say that having a mandatory service would better connect our civilian infrastructure with the risks of military interventions. Reasons for joining would change. While service to country would remain a strong recruiting tool, college money and quick transferable job skills would be less. Yearly recruitment needs would go down, allowing the services to be more selective in whom they take. Higher initial fitness and ASVAB score requirements. Competitive selection instead of first come first served. Technical jobs may be better filled from current service members transferring from other job duties. Units would have higher esprit de corps, with members working together as a solid coherent unit for longer periods. It would allow service members to focus on their jobs and mission, without the distraction of how training affects them “when they get out”. It would reduce the many dissatisfied service members waiting for the end of their enlistment creating a negative work environment. I am pretty sure I can say safely that we have all worked with a few of these and can attest to the headaches they bring. In my mind, the net effect is higher quality service members better devoted to their profession than we have now.
In order for this to work, at least in the Army (and I am Army centric), how the personnel and training system work would need to be changed. Our training and manning and style of recruitment are still based on the concept of the conscript military and fighting WWII. While this gives us some benefit in the ability to mobilize large semi-competent formations quickly if the Russians stream through Fulda Gap (not as laughable as it was a decade ago), it wastes the potential that a true volunteer and PROFESSIONAL force could provide. The Army tries to be 100% manned and 100% trained 100% of the time. Not possible. Why not use a rotational readiness model? It has worked well for the Marines (man, I hate to admit that) and would make for a much more capable forces. All brigades could rotate through three main phases. R&R, when individual training takes place, block leave can be granted, transfer requests can be made, etc. This would be followed by a train-up and certification phase. Manning would be locked for this phase to allow consistency in leadership and training goals. I am a big believer that much of the individual training and schools that the Army uses would be better utilized to train units and not individuals. I have seen very little return to the unit from the individuals sent, unless it was a certification for a specific and used role (Jumpmaster). The final phase would Deployment or stand-by. Here the unit would either deploy for a pre-determined mission or would be on world-wide stand by and rapid re-call for emergency deployment needs. Training would be of low liability and skills maintenance variety. Under this system PCS moves “for the needs of the Army” would be limited (unless you are commissioned, then you can expect frequent transfers) and transfers would be primarily at the request of the individual. While many will want to homestead for good units and for family stability, some will always be willing to move for promotion potential and/or adventure. The reduction in PCS move associated costs would save the military a great deal money.
My biggest fear is that the bureaucrats that often do so well in the military in peacetime would also thrive in this environment. My question is if training, and non-combat deployments can be rewarding enough to keep the war fighters in during peacetime? I think it can be, but what I’m seeing during this RIF would not be. Am I 100% crazy or does this idea have some merit? I am open to feedback and criticism.
We have open ended enlistments after an initial mean period of service. The IMPS is generally 4 years, but is any where between 1 and 9 years depending on the role.
We still found our average career to be 5.5 years, so I'm not sure if you're going to see massive reductions in numbers through the gate. And it's for the same reasons, kids get to 22/23 and they start thinking well I've done that, what's next and I need to move quick because I'm being left behind.
We also get a lot of kids through the gate, yet we don't recruit anywhere near as aggressively in schools as you guys do, in fact our whole recruiting system is a lot more passive than yours. But it's still kids that provide the bulk of the warm bodies coming through the doors.
How family friendly is your pay and PCS system? As far as mostly kids, makes sense. Not many others think they are bullet proof. Thanks for the feedback.
The British Army and New Zealand Army have breakable long term contracts 22 & 20 years respectively.
When I was enlisted in NZ the deal was, you could leave immediately (as soon as you were signed off) anytime within the first 90 days, after that, the standard wait time after submitting your papers was 12mths, though that could be reduced down to 90 days if you paid your way out (from retirement money that you got back upon resigning).

The reserve system was very fluid, people would be there one drill and gone the next, never to be heard from again.

It is harder to maintain manning in that system, but that is where the system/leaders had to step up and treat people decently, as well as provide a training/living environment that would provide an incentive beyond just serving one's country.
Do the British and New Zealand Army still recruit by regiment instead of a centrilized intake and training like the US ? Do you think that also has an effect?
The problem is the return on the investment. A guy has a clearance, a 6, 8, 10 month tech school, and then bolts? I'd rather see an open enlistment after 4 years of service.
Do the British and New Zealand Army still recruit by regiment instead of a centrilized intake and training like the US ? Do you think that also has an effect?

New Zealand doesn't do that. The Brits do, but I'm not sure it's universal. I'm not sure if a standard enlistment into the Army will give you a choice of which Infantry/armored/signal regiment you'll go to.
It certainly does help with certain regiments, Royal Marines, Paras etc... Just like enlisting with a Ranger or SF contract is an incentive here.
We've only recently (within the last 20 years) actually gone to corps/role specific recruiting. Back in the bad old days you enlisted into the Army, what happened after that was a craps shoot.

How family friendly is your pay and PCS system? As far as mostly kids, makes sense. Not many others think they are bullet proof. Thanks for the feedback.

Pay is very good (despite anger at the current deal on offer from the government, they've had a very good run in the last decade) for the younger soldiers, I don't think it steps up enough to recognise the skills and experience of guys with 10+ years up.
Guys generally won't get posted during their IMPS, identified JNCOs will start being split off to be instructors at recruit and corps schools, but most guys will stay in their first unit until they're due to be promoted to Sergeant (Platoon Sergeant). Then quite often the postings will be within the Brigade, so while they're moving units, they're not moving house. Guys that do bounce around the country are subjected to a civilian company and that system has a thousand horror stories to tell. But it is all paid for and generally gets people from A to B with out too many homicides.

But most people are getting out before that is an issue. I'd say the bad posting discharge, either bad in a not desired job, bad location, bad in the seriously we're not doing this again are we, or bad wife has good job, kids have good school, only accounts for a small percentage of senior soldiers, not the 50-60% that get out at 5.5 years.