Murphy's Law: March 19, 2004

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While soldiering has long been noted for long hours, low pay and frequent danger, the American armed forces have changed much of that since the introduction of the all-volunteer force in the 1970s. The long hours are still there, but not as much as they used to be. The military learned that you get the most out of the troops if you only put them on overtime occasionally. This is called "surge," and it's the kind of round the clock effort required when you are in combat and the action never seems to slow down. So all the services try to give the troops as many "9-5" (more like "8-4") days as possible. When there is a major effort required, the troops won't be worn out and can give it their best. 

The low pay is also gone. In the American military, new recruits make 30 percent more than the average person of the same age. But the recruits are not getting something for nothing. Getting into the military these days means you have to be better, in terms of education and skills, than over half the population. But if you make the military your career, you end up, after twenty years, making about twice the average for all people your age (even adjusting for education). When you compare troops with specific jobs with their civilian peers, the military pay is comparable, not higher. But there are many jobs with no exact civilian equivalent (like infantryman), and the fact that these are also well paid plays a large part in keeping people in these jobs.

The danger is still there, but better training, equipment and leadership have lowered the casualty and accident rates enormously. Combat losses during World War II, and up through the end of the draft in the 1970s, were 5-10 times higher than they are now.

Military service hasn't changed in many ways, but in some very important ones, it has. 

 


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