The United States will end up with a better Army if it sticks with its all-volunteer force rather than return to the draft, the general in charge of filling the ranks said yesterday.
Maj. Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, commander of the Army's recruiting command, added during a breakfast with reporters that "the all-volunteer service is almost there right now."
If Congress comes through with promised military pay raises and restores the GI bill, Thurman said, a quality, all-volunteer Army is definity "recruitable."
With an Army of volunteers rather than draftees. "You will be better off because people are there because they want to be," the two-star general continued. His position contrasts with that of Adm. Thomas B. Hayward chief of naval operations, who said recently that he favors returning to the draft to improve the quality of today's military.
Army manpower specialists contend that the draft, if run the same old way, would push quality people into the Navy and Air Force but not necessarily into the Army.
To correct that situation, Thurman said, a future conscription program would have to assign quality volunteers to the various services rather than leave the choice strictly up to volunteers.
Asked if an all-volunteer Army would not become isolated from the mainstream of American civilian life, Thurman replied that with 150,000 to 170,000 new people coming into the Army every year, "it's hardly a separatist organization."
The Army's recruiting chief said it should not have surprised anyone that the armed services in recent years have found it increasingly difficult to attract high school graduates. The government, he said, promised in 1970 to make military pay comparable with civilian pay but has not lived up to that commitment.
In 1972, Thurman said, an entering soldier was paid 111 percent of the federal minimum wage. This figure has declined to 84 percent today, he said.
Perhaps worse, continued Thurman, was the congressional decision to kill the GI bill in 1976. "That was powerful depressant."
The final year of the GI bill, the general said, was the last time the Army recruited over 100,000 high school Graduates.
While the military has lost the lure of the GI bill, the government is offering billions in educational benefits to young people without requiring them to serve in the armed services.
Current Department of Education benefits total $5.5 billion, Thurman said. If that kind of investment were made in young people willing to serve in the military, Thurman contended and soldiers received pay comparable to what they would get as civilians doing the same kinds of jobs, conscription would not be necessary to fill the ranks.
Despite the problems caused by declining military pay and benefits, Thurman said recruiters since the end of the draft in 1973 have signed up "a good Army. It's a helluva bum rap to say the Army is a bad Army."