This article is another in the series titled, The #Human Project: Professional Views on the Army’s Human Dimension White Paper.
The next major evolution in warfare will not be in the way we fight, nor will it be what war is fought with, rather it will be who is fighting our wars. This evolution in warfare began in World War II when the United States began accepting African Americans into the Army (albeit in segregated units), continued with the acceptance of women into the armed forces, expanded with the highest levels of leadership (General Powell, General Dunwoody), and continues today with women in combat units and the end of don’t ask don’t tell. The Army and the Joint Force is now presented with the opportunity to make the most of human capital.
Maximizing the available human capital requires an understanding of the domestic environment. The recently published Human Dimension White Paper addresses the operational environment in which the U.S. Army expects to fight , and how it will prepare our men and women to fight. What it does not address is the domestic environment. The white paper, and the Army Operating Concept, both discuss the complexities of the operational environment, but recognizing the complexity of the domestic environment is just as important. The Army requires a deep understanding of domestic complexities to create a stronger force.
If the Army adjusts its regulations for who can fight based on changing demographics, it can make the most of its human capital. When the decision was made to allow women to serve in combat units, most press was given to Army Ranger and other elite units. The deeper strength comes when a female intelligence officer can serve as an infantry battalion S2 when she is most qualified for the job. It allows for commanders to find the best person for the position, be it a Ranger platoon leader or armor battalion logistics officer.
The domestic front is filled with a myriad of challenges. For the Army this includes reduced budgets and a smaller end strength. Demographically, it is estimated that nearly 75 percent of the nation’s youth are unavailable to serve the nation in uniform; this is due to a number of factors, to include obesity, disease, criminal records, and drug use. Within the 25 percent who are eligible to serve, an even smaller percentage is inclined and willing to serve in uniform. Although these numbers present a challenge, the domestic environment and its impact on the all-volunteer force is becoming more complex.
A limiting factor on who can enlist in the US Army is a history of drug use. Moreover, drug use can be a showstopper when considering the granting of security clearances. If momentum means anything, the number of states where the recreational use of marijuana is perfectly legal will continue to rise. The available population to fill the ranks of the force under current rules will continue to go down. Should the Army refuse to enlist 19 year olds from Colorado or Washington for doing something completely legal? The “who” fighting our nation’s wars may be young men and women with a history of marijuana use. Understanding the trends, laws, and policy of not only of drug use, but immigration, education, health and fitness, and impacts of science and technology developments are essential in building and maintaining our force.
Further complicating the domestic environment is the rapid pace of technological change. While the Human Dimension White Paper and the recently published Army Operating Concept discuss how advanced technology in the hands of our enemies will complicate the operating environment, the impact to the domestic environment is equally germane. Investments in robotics, unmanned, and autonomous systems require soldiers who enter the force with higher levels of education and experience than previous generations. Indeed, primacy in education and technical skills over physical fitness is a new paradigm that merits consideration of “who” should wear a uniform and fight our nation’s wars. Moreover, the incentives for young men and women to fight may be something other than selfless service to the nation. This statement runs antithetical to US military culture today, but recognizing the history of financial incentives for soldiers in our nation’s history would permit it. Indeed, Congress has the power to grant “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” precisely because they recognized that defense of our nation at times requires a financial incentive.
Lastly, when discussing the domestic environment, the economy will be the underlying factor in how the Army recruits and retains its workforce. The Army’s competition has drastically changed over the past fifty or so years. The Army is no longer competing for the best talent with the auto industry or other areas of manufacturing. High tech corporations such as Google and Amazon, as well as other three-letter government agencies, now represent competition for the best human capital available. The “who” fighting our nation’s wars may not meet the ideals of selfless service. Moreover, as the economy ebbs and flows, financial security may be the deciding factor in an individual’s choice to serve in uniform or to stay in the private sector of the economy. Furthermore, changes to national immigration policy may impact available human capital, as well as offer recruiting incentives to the population. When China or Russia implement a new military or economic policy, hordes of analysts study the impacts it may have in the event of a conflict. The US military should do the same as domestic policy changes.
Knowing oneself has long been mantra of wise advice. The Oracle at Delphi, Sun Tzu, and Army doctrine on leadership have all advocated for understanding yourself before fighting an adversary. The US military spends an enormous amount of resources on understanding foreign nations and the likelihood of future conflict. We study nations like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and Russia to gain an understanding on how they may conduct warfare in the future. Indeed, the Army has an entire functional area of foreign affairs officers who serve commanders and US embassies as experts on various nations and regions across the globe. The nation that has the most impact on how a future war will be fought is our own. The enemy does get a vote, but our vote still counts. Understanding our own nation’s demographics and culture to build an Army around it is equally if not more paramount for success in future conflict.
Daniel Sukman is a U.S. Army strategist. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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