Robert Goldich, formerly of the Congressional Research Service, is one of the most informed people I know on a broad range of military personnel policy issues. (For example, he is writing a history of conscription -- I think for "fun"!) The other day he passed along a note of three personnel recommendations he'd made two years ago. Here it is:
I asked him to add what he might do for military spouses. He responded:
I [listed] three proposals, of which one has been accomplished (the expanded GI Bill spearheaded, as usual over the myopic opposition of DoD, by Senator Jim Webb). I still support the other two. Note that these are not direct recruiting tools, but are designed to provide a much broader range of opportunities for American young people to become informed about military service as an option and lifestyle.
I've [bolded] key points:
Well, if I were king (emperor would be better), I'd enact a WWII-equivalent GI Bill, which is, in terms of purchasing power, even beyond what Jim Webb's bill would do. Tuition, room and board, fees, etc. for any institution one could be admitted to. I suspect you could recruit to 785,000 Army and the total post-VN Cold War strength of about 2.2 million active duty pretty easily with that. Sure a lot of troops would get out after one term to use the benefits, but I also have no doubt that enough would stay in to grow the NCO corps with at least as much quality as it has now. Besides, it would really shake up a lot of the elite institutions that former troops would then be able to attend -- which might be its biggest benefit to the nation in the long run.
I'd fully fund (which would cost only $100-$200 million more a year, I think) Junior ROTC. Any high school that wants a unit -- there are currently many hundreds on the waiting list, and the total number is capped at, I believe, 3,500 nationwide -- should get one. One of the biggest factors in recruiting is just putting the idea into the student's head that the military exists as an option, and there have been studies which show that JROTC cadets/midshipmen indeed go on to affiliate one way or another with the armed forces at high levels. Of course, there is much self-selection, but the option should be available to all who want it. I emphasize that I would in no way change the substance of the program one bit -- no obligation resulting therefrom, not even any harder sell. I'd also create summer programs for JROTC that cadets/midshipmen could attend at government expense, again on a purely voluntary and optional basis.
I'd create the equivalent of the 1920s and 1930s Citizens Military Training Camps, in which young -- or fairly young people, ages say, 18-25, even 30, could receive one or two or even three months of paid military training in the summer months (on the assumption that most would indeed be students one way or another), with the aim of acquainting young people with military life, perhaps allowing successful completion of the courses, one or more over one or more summers, to count as basic training, result in a reserve enlistment if the individual is so inclined, or give a leg up if going on active duty.
Would all of this cost a lot of money? Well, yes, but well, no, not compared to one Zumwalt-class destroyer, or maybe two, or a couple of LCS's, or a squadron of F-22s or F-35s-you get the picture. And we can easily afford all, and given the maelstrom in which we are living, I think we could swing it. But the services would have to stop treating recruiting as a distinct and compartmentalized area of their operations and realize that they have to be much more proactive in bringing their existence and messages to the nation as a whole. The Army might start by making the head of USAREC a four-star rather than a two-star.
Regarding spouses, I really don't have much to add to the programs that already exist -- I think that fully funding and resourcing them is what is necessary now. What I think would make a difference for military families in general is adding to and broadening the already first-rate DoD child care system, which early childhood education experts unanimously agree is the best in the country, in particular, providing more opportunities for military families to have access to family day care homes on and off-base as well as to DoD's very good day care centers. Full disclosure here: I am Chair of the Board of Directors of a 501C3 organization called Infant-Toddler Family Day Care of Northern Virginia, which is an umbrella organization providing management, administrative, financial, educational, credentialing, and quality-control for about 120 family day care providers caring for about 325 children in Northern Virginia; ITFDC has 16 regular employees in its headquarters in addition to the providers. So I have learned a lot in recent years about day care evaluation, ranking, and needs
I think that's a pretty good statement. As the son of a former Navy sailor who used the GI Bill to get out of rural Utah and wound 10 years later up teaching at Harvard, I especially like the idea that an expanded GI bill would again make elite education affordable for many more vets.
What would you add?
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.