On July 1, 2023, the U.S. Army and the nation celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the all-volunteer force. For half a century, the call to serve has been answered with Americans making the choice to represent the highest ideals of service and patriotism through military service.
“This year is the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth during the Army’s Birthday Festival. “That is 50 years of selfless service, 50 years of Soldiers from all walks of life volunteering to realize their potential, 50 years of Soldiers being all they can be.”
In 1973, the Nixon administration announced the U.S. military would fill its ranks exclusively with Americans that made the choice to serve rather than with draftees. Prior to 1973’s all-volunteer force, anear-continuous conscription began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s activation of the nation’s first peacetime draft in support of World War II. That first draft, between November 1940 and October 1946, enlisted over 10 million Americans. The draft was again re-adopted in 1948 and continued to exist until it was officially halted on July 1, 1973.
The Army started working on developing the all-volunteer force well before the draft ended. According to Nicholas Torre, an Army Historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History, in April 1971, a transitionary program called VOLAR, named for the new Volunteer Army Program, was successfully implemented at select bases.
VOLAR was an experiment designed to increase retention rates and morale among Soldiers and to attract those who wanted to serve. The results were promising. For example, reforms at Fort Carson that aligned with the principles of VOLAR resulted in a 45% increase of reenlistments.
“VOLAR and accompanying initiatives sought to rectify the ills of the Vietnam-era draft-dependent Army,” Torre said. The Army wanted to find ways to increase discipline and morale as it moved towards an all-volunteer force. That included improving work environments by focusing on three areas: Army professionalism, day-to-day quality of life and addressing contextual social problems like race-related and drug abuse issues. Today, at the close of the Global War on Terror and with recruitment presenting challenges, there are parallels shared between the inception of the all-volunteer force and the present state. For instance, the U.S. Army continues to be a diverse force and a place for equal pay and treatment.
“Our Soldiers, from the newest E-1 to the most experienced generals come from all over the country, from many different backgrounds, from multiple demographics, races and ethnicities. And while our Soldiers are as diverse as the nation they serve, we have seen throughout our history that we are strongest when we serve together. At the end of the day, what unites us is our shared Army values. That and our collective mission to fight and win the nation’s wars,” Wormuth said.
Our diverse force continues to be united by a common mission, but the U.S. Army has also evolved over the last 50 years. Under the draft system, draftees usually served for two years. Today enlistments vary depending on each Soldier’s training and career path. Today’s Army offers more complex education and training for over 200 career paths. New innovations in training such as the Holistic Health and Fitness, and new approaches towards mental readiness, sleep readiness, physical readiness and spiritual readiness are telling of how today’s Army is prioritizing setting up Soldiers for readiness and success.
“No other organization can bring out the best in people like the United States Army,” Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. James C. McConville remarked at the Army’s Birthday Festival.
Wormuth succinctly expressed what’s at the core of encouraging and celebrating Americans who choose to serve in an Army of possibilities, “The strength of our total Army has always been and will always be, our people.”