Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey had just sworn in slightly more than two dozen new recruits and serving soldiers at a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the creation of the all-volunteer force with Army Secretary Pete Geren attending. They recited the oath of enlistment and some spoke of why they enlisted. I asked Geren after the ceremony if the US could afford a volunteer force with its ever-increasing costs from bonuses, pay increases and health care.
The Senate's senior defense spending member had raised this very issue in late May when he asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen if it is time to "consider reinstituting the draft."
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, asked the question he said no one wants to ask: "Is the cost of maintaining an all-volunteer force becoming unsustainable and, secondly, do we need to consider reinstituting the draft."
When I asked the leader of the biggest military service whether the slippery slope of spending could be sustained he did not miss meet a beat. "As a nation, we must afford an all-volunteer force. It's the best force the world has ever seen," Geren told me.
Geren's commitment notwithstanding, there is clearly some debate -- or at least concern -- among the senior reaches of the military if Mullen's comments at the hearing were any indication.
"A future that argues for, or results in, continuous escalation of those costs does not bode well for a military of this size," he said, adding it the rising costs will eventually force the US to shrink the military, spend less on new weapons or to "curtail operations." The question of pay and benefits for the U.S. military "is the top issue we need to come to terms with," Mullen said.