The All-Volunteer Army

By: Dr. Steve Kellner

For most of our country’s history our military forces have been made up entirely of volunteers, those who enlist of their own free will. Only in times of national emergency—the Civil War and the two World Wars—has a military draft been necessary. But a strange thing happened after World War II. The draft continued even though our country was not at war. Note: We have been involved in no officially declared war since WWII. 

Some very famous Americans had their lives and careers disrupted by this new permanent draft. The great baseball player Willie Mays was drafted just after he had won the National League Rookie of the Year award and missed almost two full seasons of play. Elvis Presley, at the time the biggest star in popular music and one of the most recognizable people in the world, was drafted at the height of his fame in 1958. And Muhammed Ali was stripped of his world heavyweight boxing championship for resisting the draft on religious grounds in 1967. 

The problem with the permanent draft became clear during the Vietnam War when millions of young Americans were drafted to serve. Because the war was unpopular in both the military and on the home front, our military suffered significant breeches of discipline, including insubordination, widespread drug use, and racial strife. These issues occurred overwhelmingly among draftees, not volunteers, and greatly affected the fighting effectiveness of our military units in the field, even threatening to break apart our military services completely. 

In response to this crisis Congress instituted the all-volunteer force, raising pay, improving training, and providing better family support to attract volunteer enlistees, and make the draft unnecessary. This has created the effective and highly motivated military force our country has today. 

The Salvation Army is and has always been an all-volunteer force. Everyone who serves within its ranks does so of their own free will. We are called to this service by our Savior Jesus Christ, a better recruiter than Uncle Sam could ever dream of being. Since He is God, He could forcibly “draft” us into His service, but He chooses not to. He only wants the willing and knows draftees won’t make effective soldiers in His Army. 

Like our military forces, The Salvation Army can’t fight effectively without good order and discipline in our ranks. Insubordination and division can and has weakened our effectiveness at times in the past and more recently. 

So, how can we create the conditions that will produce the most effective Salvation Army possible? 

It won’t be by raising pay, as every officer, soldier, and employee knows! But we can try to make our corps and programs so radically loving and supportive that the last, the least, and the lost can’t help being drawn to them. And we can redouble our efforts to train our soldiery to show such love and support to each other and to those we serve. This will be impossible with draftees. Only volunteers can do it.