Leadership: Learning To Cope With Volunteers

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August 29,2008:  With most European nations dropping conscription and going all-volunteer, they are finding that the transition brings with it some unexpected surprises. There is even some interest in how Britain (went all-volunteer in the early 60s) and the United States (did it a decade later) handled things.

The first problem encountered was the need to get rid of the "conscript mentality." Officers, and especially NCOs had to quickly adapt to the fact that all their troops were now volunteers, and more could be demanded of them. It apparently takes 5-10 years before NCOs got rid of all the little tricks they used to deal with reluctant, and often downright uncooperative, conscripts.

Aside from being able to demand more from the troops, the all-volunteer force also attracts a different sort of recruit. You end up with more women, and more foreigners. The foreign recruits do not include the traditional ones (the Gurkhas in Britain and "foreign legion" troops on the continent.) This came as a surprise to some European nations (like Spain and Italy) when they found that about ten percent of the volunteers had immigrated from another nation. The U.S. had less of a problem with this, as there was a long tradition of recent migrants signing up, even during the three decades when conscription was in force.

What nations do with all these volunteers, before long, is sharply raise standards. Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States are all noted for their well trained and very effective troops. That's not just because they all speak English, but mainly because they have an all-volunteer force and expect the most from their troops. Spain and Italy are making the most of this, training troops to a higher level of skill and performance. Italy has also greatly expanded the size of its Carabinieri (para-military police) force, making it about the same size as the army. The Carabinieri are well trained light infantry who excel and peacekeeping missions. Spain is organizing similar units.

As more European nations drop conscription, they find themselves with many more recent examples of how to handle the transition, and what to ultimately expect.

 


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