Keynote speaker Major General Mike Coyne on Armed Forces Appreciation Day

Major General Mike Coyne
Retired USMC

The Armed Forces Appreciation Day is intended to give recognition to the individual military services in a collective fashion as opposed to the earlier practice of having a day set aside for each service. While it is certainly meaningful to have a day to show our appreciation for the Armed Forces; I believe that too few of our citizens have sufficient understanding of issues confronting our Armed Forces.  My reason for this belief will become clear in a few minutes.

We all know that our Armed Forces exist to protect our country and to preserve our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  Most of us know the general make up our Armed Forces.  That is – the Armed Forces are made up of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.  Some, but not all of us, know that our Armed Force is called a Total Force because it is made up of an active component and a reserve component.

Currently we have an active force of 1.3 million and a reserve force of 800 thousand – This to protect a population of 327 million Americans.

This is about as far in to the weeds as I want to walk you this morning,with respect to the organizational structure of our Armed Forces.  It is more important for you to understand some of the real issues that today confront our current active armed forces – and thus our entire society.  These times are too critical for you to be able to fulfill your obligations of citizenship by just saying – “Thank you for your service”.

Just as our society has changed dramatically in the last fifty years, so has our military.  During the four years of WW Two, more than 11% of our nation served in uniform.  During the ten plus years of the Vietnam War,more than 4% of our nation served.  In the nearly 17 years since September 11,2001 only one half of one percent of our nation has served.

Consider some of the consequences this has had on our society – first on our political leadership:

  • In 1970 when nearly 14% of the population were veterans
    • 72% of the members of Congress were veterans
  • In 1991, a decade before 9-11, 11% of Americans were veterans
    • But by then only 48% of Congress were veterans
  • In 2010, just 8% of the population were veterans
    • But only 18% of the members of Congress were veterans

Of our last five Presidents, only two have served in the military, both as aviators – one in the active component during WW II and one in the Reserve component during Vietnam – and they were father and son.

Am I suggesting that one must have served in the military to be a good political leader?  Of course not!  Do I believe the lack of real, hands on exposure to the military experience by most of our Executive and Legislative leaders played a role in Congress’ bipartisan failure in 2011 to adopt a budget that adequately funded the military –a budget which led in turn to sequestration and the evisceration of our military funding?  You bet I do!!  … Where did this ignorance of the military come from?

In July of 1973 the draft was eliminated and the All-Volunteer Force came in to being.  This brought about an enormous change to the military force that I joined in 1959.  It is now clear there were unintended consequences for what was believed, at the time, by many military leaders, to be a good decision.  The motivation for the AVF was clearly political pandering to voters – and all too many in the military were compliant.  The consequences of the AVF have proven, at the very least, to be culturally challenging and economically disastrous or, in military terms, a FUBAR.

Many senior military leaders believed that the AVF would bring in highly motivated and even more highly qualified individuals as opposed to the increasingly reluctant and poorly motivated recruits of the later Vietnam years.  The passage of time has not supported their beliefs.

Even as a young officer I favored the draft, because I believed then – and believe today – that our society at large benefits from requiring military service for all healthy young men following on their graduation from high school or college. I had read sufficient military history to realize that many of our greatest military leaders did not plan to be career officers but became so by the force of circumstances – and these men happened to be graduates of our best colleges and universities who served because of the draft.

In my training company alone, at OCS in 1962, I trained alongside of graduates from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Georgetown, Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Stanford, Duke and other fine schools.  Many of them continued their military service until retirement – although the majority returned to civilian life, after their obligated service, and have been strong contributors to our society.  Today it is extremely rare to see the graduates of those schools joining the military and becoming officers.

The biggest change that AVF made, however, is to the overall composition of the force.  In 1973, before the commencement of the AVF – 2.5% of the active force was female.  By 2000, just before the World Trade Towers on 9-11, over 14% of the force was female.

To put those numbers in to a larger context, the total active force in 1973 totaled 2.3 Million and by 2000 it had been reduced to just 1.4 Million.  As you can see – when we were called upon unexpectedly to respond to an attack on our country – we had a force that was 39% smaller but which contained six times as many females.

Let me make clear I am not suggesting that women do not make good military members.  The point I am making is that – in those percentages- they do not provide the military with the balanced skill set we have historically depended upon for our military.

The force composition issues not only remain -they are worsening. Women who did not want their husbands going to Vietnam now want their granddaughters to be able to join the military and become generals and admirals.

Our military has become an equal opportunity employer which now offers workplace benefits surpassing our major corporations.  The military culture has become a kinder – gentler culture.  When I was a young lieutenant, a single woman who became pregnant in the military was immediately administratively discharged.  Today we are enlisting them and building housing and day care centers for them on our military bases.  There is a tolerance of differences and life styles in today’s military that would not be recognized by our past great military leaders.

So my concern remains.  Is it the role of the military to be an equal opportunity employer?  Or does the military’s role continue to be – to close with and destroy – up close and personal if need be – the enemies of our democracy?  There was no confusion about this in the Marine Corps I joined in 1959.  Today I am less certain.  There seems to be a Pollyannaish belief that the next war will be about whether my drone can beat your drone – and anybody can fly a drone.

Today our military is deployed in the Middle East and Africa opposing the forces of radical Islam as practiced by ISIS and Al Qaeda.  We have Korea flexing its nuclear muscle; and Iran stirring up problems in Syria and Palestine through its surrogates – while bidding time to develop its own nuclear capabilities.  We have NATO Treaty obligations being tested by Russia’s provocative actions in the Ukraine.  And if that is not enough, we have a newly aggressive China threatening maritime passage rights in the Pacific through the creation of artificial islands.

Is there any sane person who believes that now is the time to involve our military in social experimentation and equal opportunity causes?

Yes, we need to acknowledge our military services with gratitude today – but we need to demand of our elective leaders that they continue to provide us with military services that will be equal to or better than those we have depended upon in the past.  It is for these forces that I am today appreciative!!

Content provided by Major General Mike Coyne from a presentation offered at Avow’s Armed Forces Appreciation Day on May 18, 2018. 

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