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Murphy's Law: The Curse Of Old Soldiers
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Defense Security Cooperation Agency

July 12, 2010: Many Filipinos were shocked to learn that the average age of their army troops was 38. This is considered too old for an army engaged in lots of combat against Moslem separatists and communist rebels. It's seven years older than the average age of American soldiers.

American troops in combat zones are a little younger still. In World War II, it was 26 years old, in Vietnam it was 23 and in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's 27 years old. The age in Vietnam was younger because most of the combat troops were volunteers, and younger. Most of the troops during World War II were draftees, but a much larger proportion of the population was drafted, bringing in a lot of men in their 30s. Since the 1970s, the U.S. Army has been all volunteer, and there has been a deliberate effort to retain competent NCOs as long as possible, as these men are, especially in combat units, the key to battlefield success. Thus the average age is older.

The situation in the Philippines is typical of most nations, with the military seen more as a civil service job, with great security, than a combat profession. Even in Western Europe, this was how it works in most countries. Older troops, often in poor physical condition, were kept in uniform, even in combat units. Many of the infantry were young recruits, but the infantry comprises only about ten percent of troops in modern armies. In poor countries, the military is often all-volunteer, because it's a job in an area with high unemployment. You often have to pay a bribe to be allowed in.

In the most effective forces, like those of the United States, weight and physical condition standards are enforced for troops of all ages, and retirement after twenty years service is offered, and sometimes imposed even if the soldier wants to stay. This keeps the average age down, even though there are a large number of older, and experienced, NCOs.

The Filipino government has promised to recruit more young troops, to lower the average age of their soldiers. But in a country with a high unemployment rate, and not much job security even if you find work, a career in the military is pretty attractive to anyone allowed to join. In the U.S., there are a lot more economic opportunities, and most new recruits leave after their four year enlistment (or officer contract) is up. Veterans benefits in the United States encourage this, with college tuition money and other incentives available. In the Philippines, if you leave the army, all you get is unemployment.

 

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