Volunteer Army

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VOLUNTEER ARMY. Use of volunteers for military service was popular throughout the first hundred years of U.S. history. Volunteers fought in the American Revolution, the Indian wars of the late 1700s, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, on both sides of the Civil War, and in the Spanish-American War. Permanent state militia units tended to put military training on a volunteer basis, and until World War I, individuals volunteered for national military service through the state quota system in state units.

With the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1917, volunteer forces began to diminish. Passage of the National Defense Act of 1920 rendered all state volunteers, who served in the National Guard, subject to federal military call whenever necessary. The state militias and National Guard kept up the supply of volunteers, but in the national military service, the numbers severely lessened. The advent of mechanized warfare and strict planning of maneuvers made a great amount of training necessary, which virtually eliminated the untrained war volunteer. Tactics and equipment operation took time to learn, and in the case of the old-fashioned war volunteer, there was not enough time.

The furor during the Vietnam War over the draft reawakened interest in building an all-volunteer army, but there was much dissension over the practicality of such a move. Nevertheless, in 1973 the federal government abolished the Selective Service System. Prospective volunteers in the all-volunteer army receive incentives. Volunteers choose their branch of service and the course of study to follow while fulfilling their military obligations.

Throughout the 1970s, efforts to attract recruits in the quantity and quality required achieved only mixed success, and these difficulties prompted critics to question the feasibility of relying exclusively on volunteers. In the 1980s, however, recruiting methods and the quality of recruits improved. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, a string of U.S. military successes seemed to vindicate the decision to revert to the volunteer tradition.


Bachman, Jerald G. The All-Volunteer Force: A Study of Ideology in the Military. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1977.

Fredl and, J. Eric, et al., eds. Professionals on the Front Line: Two Decades of the All-Volunteer Force. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 1996.

Keeley, John B., ed. The All-Volunteer Force and American Society. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978.

Andrew J.Bacevich


See alsoConscription and Recruitment ; Enlistment .