Senators Warren and Graham on the All-Volunteer Force

I attended the Center for a New American Security’s Annual Conference entitled “Strategic Competition” on June 21st and wanted to share with you the answers to a question I posed to Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).  As you will see from my comment below, the event was a model of civil discourse, even when differing views were presented. An audio of the entire discussion is found here (and my question comes at the 35:44 point).  Here’s an unofficial transcript of the portion that relates to my question and the Senators’ responses: 

Professor Dunlap: Senators, thank you very much; I wish the American people could see this—people with different views expressing them but doing it in the right way.  

[I’m] Charlie Dunlap from Duke University. Changing gears a little bit, there’s been a lot of discussion lately about the all-volunteer force and that the military seems to be becoming this “warrior caste.” Since the draft doesn’t seem viable, is there anything that we can do to ensure that the burden is spread to a larger proportion of our population?  

The Congressional Research Service recently said that 44 percent of new recruits are coming from the South; is that a problem or not?  

Senator Graham: Not to me! (laughter) 

Senator Warren: Yes I think it is a problem, and I think that as a nation we all need to be in this—look, all three of my brothers served in the military. My oldest brother was career military, 288 combat missions in Vietnam. We lived in a family that honored the military, obviously Lindsay served. I think it’s important and one thing that I’ve actually stressed with some of our military leaders is the importance of recruiting everywhere, including in New England, and I have pushed on this… 

You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to be willing to talk to people and you’ve got to be willing to talk to people who are not the typical target, and that raises a second point for me and that is what the military looks like going forward. What all of our military, who are recruiting, where we’re investing our money; here’s what worries me most about where we are. We keep polishing up and building and strengthening a military of the twentieth century.  

What we need is to address the threats that will hit us in the 21st century and we need the capacity to do that. That means we need a lot more investment in research and development [R & D], it means we need a lot more investment in artificial intelligence and robotics, we need people who are ready for the threats that are already, that have hit the United States and the coming threats. We have got to stop looking at our military in terms of counting how many of these do we have, and how many of those—no, it’s about how much capacity do they have. What can they do; what can a warfighter do when that person is in the field, what can a plane do, what can a ship do. 

And here’s what troubles me. I say this, I raise this in hearings until Lindsey falls asleep when I start to ask questions because he knows I’m going to go down this same path about the importance of research and development and of recruiting different kinds of people into, all kinds of people, into the military including lots with technical backgrounds and the problem is our military leaders. Bless them, they will sit there and they say, yes, definitely, boy, I’m in favor of the future, and then here comes the budget over from the Pentagon and it’s got increases, increases, increases on R&D, which kind of has maybe a little bit more or a little bit less or they poked other things into it to make it look like R&D; and it’s not really R&D.  

We have to, as a country I think, get much more aggressive in insisting that our military not only reflect who we are but reflect the sharpest furthest edge of our thinking, of our research, to be able to counter the threats that I guarantee you are coming our way. 

Senator Graham: And full disclosure, he was my boss in the Air Force. So that was a good question.  

So when you look—real quickly—when you look at eligible people for the draft, you know, the fighting age from 18 to 29 or whatever it is, the number of people who are physically qualified is pretty low. The number of people is well lower than it should be, you know we got health care problems out there – young people diabetes – it’s harder.  

So here’s the deal: I think recruiting needs to be more diverse, as like General Kelly is from Boston. He’s my kind of guy. The bottom line is what’s the 1% of really taking it on the chin here, lifting sequestration was the best thing we could do.  

We need about 520 [000 troops] in the Army—what does that matter? It means that you don’t rotate as much, it means you can have a better presence throughout the world without wearing people out. We need 350 ships not 278 so you can actually show up in Asia. We’ve grounded 50% of the fighter squadrons because they don’t have enough time to train what we did during sequestration was bled our own military dry and it’s the worst thing that’s happened since I’ve been in Washington.  

That’s behind us now, count me in for more R&D because the wars of the future are going to be more asymmetrical, there are going to be more cyber threats. I am with you a hundred thousand percent, but here’s what we do need: enough people to make sure that the ones who do volunteer are not worn out, the equipment they need to win. 

I’m not looking for a fair fight, folks, I want it to be overwhelming so nobody in their right mind will go to war with us—and I want to make sure those who are doing the fighting have a little more time with their family, get paid a little bit more and have the best that we can offer them before the enemy gets it.

Dr. Fontaine: That’s a great note of consensus on which to close, I wish we could keep the conversation going longer but the Senators have to get back to do the people’s work here in a moment.

A little explanation about Senator Graham’s remark about me being his “boss” in the Air Force.  Actually, I’ve known and respected Senator Graham since he was a student of mine in our basic judge advocate (JAG) course in the early 1980s.  When he completed his active duty he served in the National Guard and in the Air Force Reserves as JAG before retiring as a colonel (he served some 33 years).

In any event, I thought the Senators gave pretty good answers to my question.  Again, the civil discourse on national security was refreshing, and throughout the event both Senators provided interesting perspectives (and a surprising amount of agreement!).  In the strongest terms, I urge you to watch the full event found here.

Still, as we like to say on Lawfire®, check the facts, assess the arguments, and decide for yourself!


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