Leadership: USAF Makes Unique Recruiting Pitch

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April 8,2008: The new U.S. Air For Cyber Command is asking for some leeway in recruiting standards and military lifestyle, in order to get the kind of airmen they need. In a word, the air force needs geeks, and many of the recruits being sought could not pass the physical fitness test, or tolerate the usual military discipline. The air force could hire Internet engineers and hackers as civilians, and sign them to contracts that would be the equivalent of the kind of control and security they have over military personnel. That's probably what will happen, as that is the approach long used to get technical personnel who can do the job, but are not willing to do it in uniform, as part of a military unit, with military discipline and all of that.

In fact, most military personnel these days could just as well be civilians. Armies have always had civilians along, to perform support functions. The historical term is "camp followers." In times past, the ratio of civilians to soldiers was often much higher, like eight civilians for every one soldier. Only the most disciplined armies (like the ancient Romans at their peak), kept the ratio closer to one to one. But when conscript armies became common in the 19th century, it was suddenly cheaper to replace many of those civilians with conscripts (who were paid a nominal wage.) Now that armies are going all-volunteer, it's gone back to the old days, where it's cheaper to have civilians perform a lot of support jobs. This is a trend that's been going on in the American armed forces even before conscription was eliminated 35 years ago. The effort to recruit more Internet geeks will end up gathering up more camp followers, who will stay "in the camp" to do their job, and never need venture into a combat zone where the warriors are working.

 


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