All-volunteer force for the 21st century

The United States must continue to develop and sustain an agile and flexible all-volunteer force that is fully prepared to take on our enemies today and far into the future. This means being able to recruit and retain the best and the brightest among our civilian population and provide them and their families a quality of life on par with their private sector counterparts.

Beginning with colonial militias, America has a strong tradition of men and women answering their country’s call to duty and volunteering for military service. The federal government has implemented drafts or conscriptions over the years to swell the ranks of the military, but support for this practice has waned. Following controversy surrounding the Selective Service during the Vietnam War, President Nixon created the all-volunteer force in 1973. The unpopular Vietnam War was ending, but a new professional military force in America was just beginning.

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Unfortunately, the all-volunteer force is being tested today more than ever before. Between looming sequestration and the high intensity of military operations since the force’s creation, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps to maintain morale and provide for our service members and their families. As a veteran enlisted soldier, and now a member of the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, I see many opportunities to do exactly this.

For example, last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) began modernizing the compensation and benefits of the all-volunteer force by creating a portable retirement system that allows our service members to contribute to their own Thrift Savings Plan with matching contributions from the Department of Defense. Now, for the first time, service members will be able to enter the private market after completing their service with a retirement savings plan they can transfer to a civilian job.

Military readiness is and should always be a priority. While this often refers to operating and maintaining the military’s vehicles and weapons systems, readiness also includes taking care of the people that make up the force. That is why this year’s NDAA would give our troops the pay raise they legally deserve and would sustain the Military Health System by implementing meaningful reforms to ensure its continued success. I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue to increase readiness by improving the quality of life for our service members and their families.

Finally, the size of our force must be sufficient. While our servicemen and servicewomen can endure much, the burden is great and would be even greater if the size of the all-volunteer force were to be reduced any further. That is why we included the Protecting Our Security Through Utilizing Right-sized End-strength Act in this year’s NDAA to maintain a land force of 480,000 or more. If there is one takeaway from the conflicts of the past decade, it is that we must have not only the latest and greatest weapons systems but also a properly sized force to carry out our country’s security goals.

We are making great progress toward developing a national defense that will succeed in the 21st century, but there is much more work to do. Services like the commissary system, which offers military families access to reasonably priced goods at their local duty stations, must remain available, and we ought to look for other ways to improve the quality of life for our troops and their families. Congress must fight for the men and women who make up our all-volunteer force so that they can fight to protect our nation and our way of life far into the future.


Knight has represented California’s 25th District since 2015. He sits on the House Armed Services; the Science, Space and Technology; and the Small Business committees.