Without an Enemy, What Makes a Soldier's Heart Sing?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Is it the soldiers or the wars that have changed? America's military leaders are trying to figure out exactly why they're having such a hard time retaining recruits. Recent data shows that a record number of captains are bolting the armed forces after just five to 10 years of service, and an unprecedentedly small percentage of active officers plan on making a life out of military survice. To figure out what's happened to this once-proud tradition, Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shineski commissioned a survey of soldiers at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. Judging from the initial results it looks as if the problem runs deeper than the lure of the booming tech sector. The Washington Post reported Monday that in the first set of surveys tallied, soldiers blame the Army's leadership for the exodus. The surveys found that low-ranking personnel don't feel a sense of loyalty flowing downward from their commanding officers, while most soldiers feel that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have weakened the nation's military by bowing to popular politically correct demands on issues such as promoting women and admitting gays.

But TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson thinks these findings mask a deeper-seated problem in today's military: the lack of a clearly defined and imposing enemy. "The big toll on morale has been the end of the Cold War combined with the rise in non-combat missions that troops are increasingly deployed on," says Thompson. "The missions aren't as exciting today as they were during the Cold War. The fundamental problem is the loss of the Soviet Union." The findings, say Thompson, could help lead to a reexamining of the size of America's military. "When the Chiefs of Staff look for answers as to why people are leaving and they find that morale is falling, they have to start asking the difficult questions. So you have to ask whether that mood suggests that our standing military is too big for the post-Cold War era. Should we cut off a large chunk of our military to create a separate peacekeeping force? That's a solution many in the military won't be comfortable with, but it's a qeustion that will be raised by studies like this." The way things are going, it seems a sure bet that more and more people will be asking those questions in the coming years.