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Short-Term Military Enlistment
December 14, 2002 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I hope this isn't a double post. I've searched but couldn't find anything. It has special relevance to me since I am joining the Air Force in five months. John McCain (R-AZ) and Evan Bayh (R-IN) are pushing a bill through Congress that will allow for a short-term enlistment of 15 months into the military. Being 25 and wanting to pay off my loans, I may have taken this route had it been available to me. It would be especially helpful to college burn-outs to step out of college for a little over a year. Unless you are very anti-military, does this make signing "the dotted line" any more attractive?
posted by mychai (29 comments total)

 
I come from a military family--dad is retired Army, sister is halfway through her second hitch in the Navy. I think the only concern I'd have with the short enlistment option is the turnover rate--training someone who's only (possibly) going to be gone in a few months could get very expensive. I assume that they'd have to limit the specialties that a short-timer could choose from--my sister spent eight months training for her job.

It would be a great intro for the kid who isn't sure if he wants to go to college right away, get a job, or commit to a longer term in the service. In fact, I wonder if enlistees under a certain age shouldn't be required to enlist for a short term initially, with that time applied to a full hitch should they decide to re-up.
posted by padraigin at 12:05 PM on December 14, 2002


Personally, I'm worried about having to go to war. I'm sure I'd be of more use doing needlework at home or whatever.

But...just as long as nobody's being forced into military service...hey this is a good idea. Although one must wonder about the quality of such people, being only so invested in the goings on, counting down the days to freedom. They'd probably get assigned really menial work.

~< Thomas Hardy Bacardi!! Such agony!
posted by KettleBlack at 12:11 PM on December 14, 2002


I'm anti-war but I'm far from a pacifist. My position is usually along the lines of don't whine at me that I don't want to join the army and I won't whine at you that you do. I don't really hold scorn for people who genuinely feel they want to join the army- just the leaders who use them as expendable chess pieces. There's a need for soldiers, and ultimately the occasional need for military conflict- I just don't think that has happened recently, and I certainly don't think it will be made better by people who only joined the service because their lack of interest needed to be compensated for.

That said, I really don't see what the point of this is. If the idea is that a shorter time in the military is more compelling, then there's only three plausible explanations for this plan:

1. The army is accepting that people only want to experience military service for short periods of time, which doesn't really make the "perpetual war" angle shine brightly.
2. The army is adamant on going to war very quickly, and wants to catch as many "get in, get out, get paid- surprise you're going to 'Nam" students as possible.
3. The army wants to institutionalize military service- i.e. "the first one's free, but now you're hooked."

Furthermore, I'm very annoyed by the beginning of your second link- the article is, essentially, complaining that 2/3 of American high school graduates go on to college. The idea that the army is competing with higher education doesn't really reflect an aura of sensibility and intelligence to me.

My point is, like it or hate it, the army should be comprised of people who unquestionably want to be in the army- not people who are recruited in because of new incentives and, to be blunt, special discounts. That's exactly why we got rid of the draft, and exactly why service is a long-term commitment. Anything else makes a less efficient army, which can't be good in either war or peacetime situations.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:17 PM on December 14, 2002


15 months? Isn't that just barely enough for basic training and specialization?
posted by nathan_teske at 12:32 PM on December 14, 2002


I like the idea of recruits being over 25 years old. So that to become a soldier means you are actively making that decision based on what you think needs to be done, not for money, or because you don't have anything else lined up. It needs to be more of a commitment, you will likely aid in killing people. You should do this because you really think it's important, not because your life lacks direction and you're 18.
posted by rhyax at 12:33 PM on December 14, 2002


I wonder if this is for combat positions or support positions?

I've got some skills that I've already learned, not battlefield skills, but civillian skills, that could be of use to the military. Heck, in exchange for basic training to whip me into better shape, I'd consider it.

The reserve obligation could also be fulfilled by serving in a civilian national service program such as the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.

Doesn't sound like forcing old folks to kill to me. Sounds more like an attempt to get more citizens involved with their nation.
posted by swerdloff at 12:42 PM on December 14, 2002


keep in mind that although time in service and benefits begin from the day you stop off the bus, time off your contract begins after the last day of schooling.

at least, that was my deal. time off my contract wasn't to start happening until i finished flight school, some 3+ years after i signed on the dotted line.
posted by taumeson at 12:57 PM on December 14, 2002


I would love to see as much support go into programs like the Peace Corps. I have a friend who applied well over a year ago, and they are still processing her paperwork. I would think the best defense against terrorist threats and other aggression would be having people in lower-level countries see Americans come in, live amongst them, help make food and find water, start schools, etc.

On another topic, I don't understand why people assume the military is just the Army, and that its sole purpose is to kill people. When I go into the Air Force, I will be a meteorologist. I will never be given a gun. Most -- if not all -- of the hurricane data we benefit from comes from military planes flying through the center of the storm. There is a lot more that the military offers than just killing bad guys.

On yet another topic... Did any of you see Star Trek: Nemesis? Did you all think it was an extended metaphor for current internation events?
posted by mychai at 1:04 PM on December 14, 2002


Then this would be one of the few points at which I'd have to diverge from McCain's judgement.

I think the recognition behind it is that the government is less inclined to encourage career soldiers--as evidenced by diminished willingness to commit to veteran benefits and very much in keeping with Rumsfeld's aggressive efforts to overhaul the battle mode of each branch as well as exert civilian control over the entire military command structure.

Initially, the result that Rumsfeld was looking for was a good idea--our military needed a shakeup--but the path he's chosen to get there is of questionable wisdom. And measures like "Short-Term Military Enlistment" are liable to contribute to reduced preparedness and declining morale--further destabilizing a military in the process of remolded for future tasking.

Here's the problem with the current accounting of military cost/benefit analysis:
Every person we train to take up arms is entitled to a respectable benefits package (physical, educational, etc.)--regardless of whther or not they see combat action. The more people we shuffle through minimal training while receiving benefits, who then quickly rotate back into civilian life--the more expensive each is on balance.
I think the way to get out of this expensive cycle is to promote the notion of making a career of military service.
If we can hold on to one person and continue to equip them with advanced training: They are less likely to make "rookie" mistakes that may result in costly damage to harware or wounding or killing themselves/others. They are more likely to survive combat action. They are better adept at handling a broader variety of tasking and assuming leadership in the field. They become more valuable to the military while their draw on the benfits pool remains essentially static.
I would have to say that short-term service enlistment is not likely to produce that effect, therefore shouldn't be passed.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 1:12 PM on December 14, 2002


FYI: In Norway, the conscription/compulsary military service lasts for 12 months, though usually less for most men. 15 months would probably seem long here.
posted by dagny at 1:15 PM on December 14, 2002


In reference to mychai's question, the idea of 15 months of military service is quite appealing. When I decided what colleges to go to, I REALLY wanted to go to Vanderbilt, but its $30,000 and then some a year- not a chance in hell I could afford this and/or take out loans. I looked at join ROTC, but the idea of a required 4 years of military service just wasn't appealing to me...But, 15 months is much more appealing than a full 48 months and if I had to redo it over, I'de consider ROTC as a much more viable alternative. That said, I also agree with the sentiment that I should join the military because I want to (which I don't), not because of the money (the money the military gave me would override the effect of 15 months of service). Hence, I think that keeping a long-term enlistment after graduation is a good idea.
posted by jmd82 at 1:15 PM on December 14, 2002


Ok problems with this from my point of view. I recently got out of the air force as a computer geek (afsc: 2e251) after 4 years. I'm writing this from a 15 months in the AF point of view.

1: No training time: That means You'll go to basic, and a few weeks of tech school - probably 3 months total of training. This means you'll be doing something like driving a bus, handing out towels at the gym, or being a security guard without the proper training. So, 15 months of a very degrading job that you can't quit.

2: Too short for the GI bill. I'm not sure what incentives they'll have for people to sign up for this, but I'm pretty sure you need to be in 36 months for the GI bill to legally kick in. The article mentioned something about you transferring into a reserve unit afterwards, so maybe that has something to do with it. (More in this in a minute)

3: So, if you get no good college help, and you're only in for 15 months you at least get paid good, right? Wrong. Yes there's a pay gap between grades that sucks, but the pay of an E1 isn't that great either. You're going to be looking at taking home an average of about $450 every two weeks in that 15 month program. I'm 23 years old, I got out as an E4 and now make as much as an E7. Keep in mind military training didn't help me much with this, but that's another story for another time. But, hey, you're just watching a jet with radio in hand (no gun) or driving a bus, so you don't deserve that much pay anyway. Of course, if you spend your days fixing complicated computers screwed up by contractors or officers who make 5 times as much as you, you don't deserve any more pay either. (If you decide to go the 4-6 year program that is)

4: So, on to that reserve thing. You do 15 months, you're out free and clear in the reserve. Right? Sorta... Keep in mind who the first ones to go to a new war are. That's right, reserves. The active duty folks have to stay behind and keep up the base and the already stretched thin deployments. (We've been deployed more in the past 10 years than from the end of Vietnam to the Gulf war, with less resources to do it with) So when Bush decides it's time for war again, say goodbye to your college courses, girlfriend, life, and pack up to head for the sandbox.

So yeah, I didn't like the air force much, but there are people who I think should join. 1: You have to be smart. You're going to hate it if you're not, at least in the technical fields. You will go very far if you have a brain. 2: No direction in life or money for school. 3: Be able to work politics. The military is very political, after you've been in for a few years and start to supervise people, you'll understand this. 4: Be willing to move, allot. Every few years you'll move some place else. Some will be shitholes, some will be paradise. 5: Understand that promotions are based on how long you've been around, not what you know. I know this is hard to understand, but what you know in the military means jack, time in service is everything.

I got out mostly because of the lack of pay/respect for what I was doing, and to have my freedom back. Otherwise, the air force is a great stable career.
posted by klaruz at 2:08 PM on December 14, 2002


Whoops, I must have missed that part of the McCain press release. about the benefits.

In return for service, an individual would be eligible for up to $18,000 in student loan repayments, 12 months of the full Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) benefits, 2/3 of the MGIB benefits for 36 months, or a $5,000 severance bonus.

That's not bad I suppose. What I don't understand, is why the loan repayments are so high. The max you can get out of the GI bill is around $24,000. (36 months, not that 12 month thing) So the smart thing do would be to go to school, rack up debt, and join the military for 15 months (if you're willing). It's good to see the government is rewarding people for going into debt instead of thinking ahead.
posted by klaruz at 2:19 PM on December 14, 2002


What an odd conversation.

The Air Force is constituted as a tool for applying lethal force in pursuit of the nation's economic interests. This particular airforce is part of a military force that has participated in lethal military engagement on average two times per year since the second world war. The discussion is being held at a time when its parent nation is entering a phase of its history where it will be under more or less permant threat of direct attack of its assets world wide.

It is being discussed as if it were a lifestyle option. I'd watch CNN more.
posted by RichLyon at 2:24 PM on December 14, 2002


I was thinking about killing some people anyways...
posted by websavvy at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2002


Ryan, the discussion is (mostly) about the ways the military is encouraging people to join. If we want to bash the military in general, there are plenty to places/times to do it. Every discussion concerning the military doesn't have to degenerate into "Yeah, the U.S. agenda is eeevil."
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 4:02 PM on December 14, 2002


If you need money for school ask your parents (duh)

o<>o (they're totally going at it)
posted by KettleBlack at 5:00 PM on December 14, 2002


When you enlist, you enlist for a period of active duty followed by a period of reserve duty, usually totalling 8 years. This time is spilt as either 2 active/6 reserve or 4 active/4 reserve.

I'm assuming that a short service track would be no different (and the article implies it): 1.25 years active/6.75 years reserve. 15 months gives you enough time to train just about every specialty, and the active duty period enables benefits that enlisting directly into the reserve doesn't and providing an extra incentive.

So the intent seems to be to grow the reserves, not grow the active ranks. This makes sense since the bulk of US forces strength is in the reserves.
posted by Cerebus at 7:34 PM on December 14, 2002


mychai: Congratulations on joining the United States Air Force! The first few weeks are a bit rough, but they'll be a distant memory soon. Hang in there and be proud!
posted by davidmsc at 11:57 PM on December 14, 2002


Has our entire military gone through boot camp since Vietnam? The Gulf War (from what I understand) was a walk in the park, and wasn't a true test of what the US military can do. Could they handle it if they had to go up against a fierce opponent again?

Thoughts, please.
posted by cinematique at 12:04 AM on December 15, 2002


Cerebus (or anyone else for that matter),
Do you think relying on the preparedness of reserve units is wise? I'm not saying it isn't, I know a lot of them take their duty seriously, but instintively I'd feel more comfortable relying primarily on the combat readiness of our full-timers. I just can't help but think their training exceeds that of reserve units.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 1:06 AM on December 15, 2002


And another thing.

In March this year, Rumsfeld announced the Military Commission Rules. Cheney likes them because, under them, bad guys can be executed in relatively rapid order. Today, Bush has issued a list of people it's OK for the CIA to kill.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of Britain's most prominent Human Rights lawyers, doesn't like the Military Commission. He thinks that 'It is an extension of the power of the President who, personally or through the officers he commands, acts as prosecutor, judge, jury and court of appeal judge' and that they are not 'different in essence from the Taliban footbal pitch executions'.

So an important question for a thinking person is - do you really want to be associated with all that stuff? Must be a little hard for anyone that actually has taken the American brand values of justice, democracy, human rights and responsibility to heart to realise (s)he is going to be a part of an organisation that violates the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the minimum requirements of the Geneva Convention.

(I'm not ant-military, by the way. Jut anti-double standards.)
posted by RichLyon at 2:05 AM on December 15, 2002


15 months? Isn't that just barely enough for basic training and specialization?


Just about long enough to qualify as cannon fodder?
posted by keno at 2:58 AM on December 15, 2002


"Cannon fodder" -- infantrymen -- are pretty highly trained nowadays. More like "just about long enough to qualify for mop jockey."
posted by alumshubby at 7:48 AM on December 15, 2002


Somebody's got to mop things.

And $1,000 a month plus room and board plus some college money plus bonuses compares favorably to an equivalent floor-mopping job at, say, McDonald's.
posted by sexualchocolate at 11:52 AM on December 15, 2002


I did 9 years in the Army and I think this could work.

The Europeans have been doing this kind of enlistment since the eighties. It's just long enough for jobs in combat support and combat service support - girls and guys that drive trucks and repair radios.

I like the idea that it could make enlistment attractive to a larger demographic. Our volunteer military is disproportionately black, hispanic and poor white. It's unfair that they should bear more of the burden.
posted by Zombie at 1:10 PM on December 15, 2002


No scheme is going to persuade many college students or college graduates to take on an enlisted job, even for a short period of time.

Essentially all jobs that are in any way useful for advancing a professional career, or even somewhat interesting to someone with an advanced education, are reserved for officers, or for enlisted personnel with a tremendous amount of training and motivation/fitness/skill and a long service commitment.

If the time comes that we need more unspecialized enlisted people than we can attract out of the pool of high school graduates, or that the incentives required to attract them when they could otherwise go directly to college become to expensive, we're going to have to draft them.
posted by MattD at 1:18 PM on December 15, 2002


An Ivy Leaguer contemplates a military career
"Why go through all of this training and conditioning, then put your life at risk? As a recent graduate myself, I can’t fathom how anyone my age could be eager to go to war, to fight for their country, to actually lead people."
A tongue-in-cheek response to anti-militarist critics from Sgt. Stryker:
"I don't know about anyone else, but Lord knows I've killed by share of inncocents. Why, it seems like only yesterday I was minding my own business and maintaining the Hegemon in a country full of slightly darker people, when the order came down: Kill the innocent, let the guilty go free. Being unable to resist the order, I killed the innocent with nothing more than a wrench and a pen knife. Though their skin was slightly darker, all the truly dangerous folk were to remain alive, but a Soldier of the Hegemon does not give much thought to these things, being a drone and all."
From the heart - Negro Please sends his friends off to war.
"I know people who got their orders and shipped off today or will be shipping off soon in preparation for an assault on Iraq should it come to that. They don't want to be there. It's their job so they are going. They'd rather be at home with their wives and husbands and sons and daughters. They joined the armed forces because it was one of the few options they felt open to them. Almost to a person, they didn't join out of some greater sense to protect this country or it's ideals or whims. They'll do it. They are honorable people and have jobs to do but they don't want to. They didn't much expect that they would actually have to go fight in a foreign land for real. They needed paychecks that were regular, housing that was decent and something to do when they turned 18 and the American Dream didn't quite happen as planned ..."
posted by sheauga at 3:11 PM on December 15, 2002


The 107th Congress adjourned on November 22 without passing this bill, so all bets are off, really. We'll have to wait and see if it is reintroduced in the 108th.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:49 AM on December 16, 2002


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