9 Representation: Continuing Interest and Issues
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Appendix A-E

Before the All-Volunteer Force

 Under the draft, especially in times of war, representation was a critical concern.  In previous eras, a term of service was a common experience among young men.  Participation in the military by minorities was viewed as a road to achieving full acceptance in mainstream American society.   However, the potential for career disruption, not to mention bloodshed, required judicious accession policy.  It was incumbent upon manpower planners to ensure that the burdens of war did not fall disproportionately upon the shoulders of society's less fortunate sons while upper class White men furthered their education or otherwise avoided the call to arms.  This was especially the case during the unpopular Vietnam War, when manpower needs were far short of full mobilization.  Representation was key in the consideration of "who serves when not all serve."  

After the Draft Ended

 When the draft was abolished, representation remained an important, and, at times, contentious issue.  Initial forecasts suggested that Blacks would play a dominant role in manning the military.  Mounting enlistment rates on the part of minorities were viewed with alarm.   Arguments ensued that reliance on the underclass, motivated to enlist because of economic considerations, would detract from military effectiveness.  Personnel quality was a problem during the first decade of the All Volunteer Force (AVF), but not because of minority participation.  The Services had to learn to advertise and market their "product."  What's more, psychometric errors in instituting a new aptitude test led to the inadvertent enlistment of a deluge of low-aptitude recruits from 1976 to 1980. (1)

 Attention to recruiting, manpower, personnel, and training programs, policies, and practices averted disaster and built up a first-rate fighting force.  Relative to population benchmarks, minority youth, Blacks in particular, were more likely than their White counterparts to enlist and remain in service.  Women were gaining representation as well, though not anywhere near population or even labor force participation proportions.  These trends have continued in the subsequent decades of the AVF and have contributed to the achievement of a high-quality, experienced force.  

 In contrast to the conscripted force and the early days of the AVF, over the course of the modern volunteer era there has been a concentration on the benefits of service. That is, representation has been examined primarily on the basis of the positive aspects of the military, including employment opportunities, education benefits, and the like. Minority overrepresentation has become a signal that the military is an equal opportunity employer.  In fact, the drawdown in response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was received with a mixture of joy and woe. (2) Many feared that the smaller military would mean disproportionately fewer opportunities for minorities.  This "benefits" focus on representation was interrupted by the Gulf War with renewed fears of minorities bearing too big a burden.  But all-in-all, access to, and participation in, the military on the part of population subgroups continues to be viewed favorably. 

Is the Grass Greener?

 Periodically, there are laments from some outside the Defense establishment regarding the absence of the draft.(3)   If only the draft were operating again, the nostalgic arguments go, representation would be assured, declining propensity would be countered, women would not be needed to substitute for men, and all would be well.  These assumptions turn out to be more wishful thinking than iron-clad reality. 

 A draft does not replace voluntary enlistments.  Rather, a draft supplements the supply of volunteers if necessary.  Thus, given the downsized personnel requirements, it is doubtful that a draft would result in proportional representation for major segments of youth.  Furthermore, manpower procurement via the draft would likely lower personnel quality.  Non-graduates and persons with lower aptitude scores would be more vulnerable to Uncle Sam's draft call than they would be to today's  invitation to enlist.

The Point of Representation

 The voluminous data contained in the Population Representation report call attention to the characteristics of military personnel—the myriad of people who operate and maintain the high-tech equipment in defense of our nation and its vital interests. Technology, global responsibilities, varied missions and deployments, not to mention our nation's ideals contribute to the complexity of military roles and readiness. There is no hard and fast, either/or characteristic that guarantees military effectiveness.  Rather, success depends on garnering requisite numbers of quality individuals and training them to be responsible, cohesive, technically proficient, duty- and honor-bound unit members. 

Military bearing demands many traits that go beyond personal appearance and physical fitness.  Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen are expected to be loyal, honest, respectful, self-sacrificing, and disciplined.  Although age, citizenship, moral character, physical fitness, education, and aptitude screens and policies promote these values, the selection net must be cast deep and wide into America's demographic melting pot to attract sufficient numbers of available, interested, and qualified recruits.  And once attracted, experienced, stable, and motivated members must be retained for the career force. 

 Members are accessed from White, Black, Hispanic, and other racial/ethnic groups.  They come from across the geographic and socioeconomic spectrums of the United States.  Practically all have a high school diploma when they enter service as enlisted members.  Further, officers are college educated from the start and they are encouraged, as are enlisted members, to pursue further education.  While military life is oftentimes disruptive to family life, many members have family responsibilities. And today, more than any other time in the military's history, women are a critical component of the military establishment.

 Arguments over the "correct" military representation levels of population subgroups are not likely to reach resolution.  The continuing need for ample numbers of quality personnel within this regimented institution, with its hardships, risks, and varied missions, requires reliance on all demographic and social segments of America.  By monitoring propensity and representation, military personnel planners and policymakers can be attuned to changing societal opinions of the profession of arms.  For example, the declining propensity among Black youth in the recent past provided an early warning to those responsible for recruitment and quality-of-life policies and programs.  Appropriate action in response to demographic trends is necessary to maintain the AVF and improve America's military.

 Military Tradition and Women in the Military

 Although there is no correct level of representation for any subgroup, the relatively low participation by women has not raised concern. In economic parlance, women are "demand constrained."  However, their presence has increased notably since the inception of the AVF.  In the absence of the draft, highly qualified and motivated women have contributed to meeting recruitment and force strength objectives. On average, more women recruits are high school diploma graduates and score higher on the enlistment test than their male recruit counterparts.  Women in uniform serve not just in medical specialties but throughout the various occupations.  They have taken part in dangerous missions including deployments to Grenada, Panama, Saudi Arabia, and Bosnia.(4) As more and more positions open to women and they gain status as partners in defense, the controversy over their role ensues.

 Even as the military approaches the 50 th anniversary of the Armed Forces Women's Integration Act, women in uniform remain somewhat of a curiosity, at least to those outside the military.  Gender-integrated basic training practiced by the Army, Navy, and Air Force is currently under review by a Congressionally-mandated commission.  This commission follows in the footsteps of a recently completed Defense panel (headed by former Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker) convened to review similar policies.  And, it wasn't that long ago (1991) that a Presidential commission debated the issue of women in the military and in combat.  Although panels have been plentiful, consensus regarding the appropriate military participation of women remains elusive.

Concern over career progression, accounts of sexual harassment, perceptions of double standards with regard to fraternization and adultery, and other affronts to diversity show that obstacles still exist and there is room for improvement with regard to gender relations. (5) The presence of women in increasing proportions does not ensure acceptance.  Readiness and cohesion require that they also be included, mentored, trained, and prepared as unit members rather than eschewed as an affront to military tradition.  Since women are key to the success of the modern volunteer force, it is important to take the necessary time to examine their strengths and their roles in the enlisted ranks and officer corps. 

 E Pluribus Unum

 Opening the military's ranks to increasing proportions of women and minorities is not enough.  To counter the disruptive aspects of service life and address the concerns of its diverse members, an array of family, community, and transition programs and services is required in addition to meeting fundamental pay, housing, and health care needs.  Beyond these basics, commitment to a diverse force calls for more than reporting group proportions.  These statistics should guide concerted and continuing efforts to monitor and evaluate assignment progress, prospects, and career progression.

 Qualified citizens with a myriad of characteristics must be represented as enlisted personnel, commissioned officers, and warrant officers, on active duty and in the Selected Reserve alike.  The smaller military is still a large employer that must attract youth of requisite quantity and quality.  Although a military career is not for everyone, the continued success of volunteer recruiting requires continuous participation by all segments of society to fill vital roles and serve their country with honor, courage, and commitment. The commitment to diversity must reach beyond numerical inclusion and proportional representation of women and minorities.  Equal opportunity and diversity are core human values that our nation seeks to protect and defend.  Who better than the military should embody the American ideal: "e pluribus unum?"

Go to Appendix Tables

  1. See Laurence, J.H. and Ramsberger, P.F., Low-Aptitude Men in the Military: Who Profits, Who Pays? (New York: Praeger, 1991).
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  3. Laurence, J.H. , Implications of the Defense Drawdown  For Minorities, paper presented at the Biennial Conference of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, Baltimore, MD, 1991.
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  5. See for example, Lippman, T.W., "Socially and Politically, Nation Feels the Absence of a Draft,"  The Washington Post (September 8, 1998),  p. A13.
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  7. See Manos, A.M. and Hickerson, P.P., The Emerging Roles of Women in the Army, paper presented at the 102nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA, August 12, 1994.
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  9. Laurence, J.H., Women in the Military: Representation and Acceptance, paper presented at the 106th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA, August 15, 1998.
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