The Magnificent, Unaffordable All-Volunteer Force

In each of the past three post-war drawdowns, the Defense Department has cut the number of troops by roughly a third. The problem this time around is the size of the all-volunteer force remained relatively small and constant at 1.4 million despite a decade of war, even while personnel costs skyrocketed. Today it cost over $2 million to keep one soldier deployed in Afghanistan for a year, and the average cost of pay and benefits for each service member averages $130,000. Meanwhile, annual spending on veterans has increased by 50 percent in just the past four years. Congress has now appointed a bipartisan commission to study reforms of the military personnel and health care systems. Its inevitably painful recommendations should at least be given an up-or-down vote, or else the Pentagon will be forced to cut the size of an already small force so deeply that it can no longer protect the homeland and American interests. The only alternative would be to gut the training, readiness and equipment modernization of the force to such an extent to put the lives of our brave volunteers needlessly at risk.

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