A Rejoinder on Compensation and the All-Volunteer Force


Both James Joyner and my friend Bryan McGrath appeared to have taken my recent War on the Rocks article on military compensation and the future of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) as an argument for no real change at all. This is not the case.

I’m trying to make the case for very careful change when dealing with the foundational element of the modern force: our people.  With the coming downturn, we need to be smarter about how we view readiness (the three questions) and people so we preserve both.

I don’t think McGrath or Joyner would disagree that you get the biggest bang for your buck in uncertain and perilous times by recruiting and keeping the right people. Arguing for the proper investment in the current force to ensure we sustain its high quality is not the same as arguing against the need to make wise decisions in how we compensate that same force.

My concern is that history shows us we’ll take the path of least resistance when it comes to personnel, which will prove to be the path of greatest regret.

Confidence is the glue that holds the AVF together:

  • Confidence the individual service members have in themselves: “I’m well-trained and well-equipped for the job I’m expected to do and the mission I’m expected to accomplish.”
  • Confidence they have in each other: “I trust the other people in my unit – they’re smart, motivated and they’ll have my back when things get tough.”
  • And confidence they have in the chain-of-command: “My leaders are worthy of my trust – they’ll be with me when things get tough, I’m treated with dignity and respect, and when I’m deployed my family won’t be forgotten.”

Lose any leg of the confidence stool and you place the force at risk.


Admiral John C. Harvey Jr. retired as Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. During his nearly 40 years of naval service as a commissioned officer, Harvey served in a variety of sea and shore billets. He was the Chief of Naval Personnel and he commanded USS David R. Ray (DD 971), USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and Cruiser-Destroyer Group Eight as part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group. He is a Contributing Editor at War on the Rocks. 


Image: National Guard