Happy Birthday to the U.S. Army!

Without the Army, I wouldn't be here to write this...so I guess if you don't like what I post, blame Uncle Sam!

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The Impact Of Selective Service

The Army started on June 14, 1775, when ten companies of expert riflemen were authorized by a resolution of the Continental Congress.  That's a lot of candles..247 to be exact!

Unless you have been in the Army, you may not know some of the basic things about the organization.  I served from March 1974 until February 1977. I know, a LOOOONG time ago.  I appreciate the experience, credit the Army for providing me with a career, and feel a responsibility to paint an accurate picture of what the Army was like for me.

I wasn't drafted, I enlisted and during the time I was in, the last draftee got out and we became the All-Volunteer Army.  That was a big deal because a lot of people back then wanted nothing to do with the Army!

Between 1965 and 1973, some 1.7 million were inducted into the armed forces through the Selective Service System. During that same period, an estimated 500,000 men “dodged” the draft through methods both elaborate (fleeing the country) and mundane (simply refusing to respond to conscription notices). Ultimately, 200,000 men were charged with draft evasion, and some 8,000 were convicted. On January 27, 1973, the Department of Defense announced that it was suspending the draft, and the Military Selective Service Act expired that June.

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Enlisted Requirements Today

I was offered Officer Training School but turned it down so my time was spent as an enlisted man and this post will focus on that experience. So what does it take to get into the enlisted man's Army today?

  • You must be between 18 and 34 years old (17 with parental consent).
  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
  • A high school diploma is preferred, but a GED may be accepted
  • Take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test
  • A physical fitness exam.
  • Some jobs may have additional requirements.
  • Complete 10 weeks of Basic Training, commonly known as boot camp

The Non-Commissioned Officers

Let's start with the ranks. "Soldiers" is the proper collective term for people in the Army.  Marines aren't soldiers.  Navy people aren't soldiers nor are air force personnel.  They are all military personnel but Marines are Marines, Navy folks are sailors and the Air Force has airmen.  Soldiers are Army men and women.

Officers have differing requirements, training, and responsibilities. This is the enlisted experience. There are 13 enlisted Army ranks: starting with private, private second class, private first class, specialist, corporal, sergeant, staff sergeant, sergeant first class, master sergeant, first sergeant, sergeant major, command sergeant major, and sergeant major of the Army. Those are the steps in promotion as you move through a career as an enlisted soldier. Another way to identify soldiers is by the numeric progression following the letter "E".

An E-1 is a private, E-2 is a private 2nd class, and so forth. The bigger the number after the E indicates the amount of training and time of service as well as leadership responsibilities and size of the paycheck.

At E-4 it gets a little confusing. There are two kinds of E-4s. Corporals and Specialists.  Corporals are on the leadership track of non-commissioned Officers and Specialists are positioned as having more technical knowledge in their job field known as an M-O-S, which stands for Military Occupational Specialty. I got out of the Army as a Spec 4, which is a shortened name for the E-4 or Specialist. 4th class with a future on the Specialist track to E-5, E-6, and E-7.  The two tracks more or less identified a leadership path of corporal, sergeant, staff sergeant, and an expert technical capability path of specialists. That was eliminated shortly after I got out and today all E-5s and beyond are sergeants.

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What Job Do You Do

After my test scores came out, the Army tried to convince me to become a "spy" in Army intelligence. HA!  My interest was in broadcasting and my MOS was 71-R20 which is a Radio/TV Information Specialist.  During the draft, soldiers didn't get the MOS careers of their choice but were assigned jobs based on what the Army needed at the time.  (That's how we got the stories of the Army's frustrating mismatch - putting highly educated professionals in jobs as cooks or mechanics)

Today's Army Is Quite A Bit Smaller

When I enlisted in 1974 the size of the Army was around 800-thousand active-duty soldiers which declined to about 783,000 over the course of the year.  RIFs or "reductions in force" had a lot of career soldiers nervous about being kicked out of the Army as it downsized.

Numbers from 2021 show today's regular Army with 485,900 soldiers, the National Guard at 336,500; and Army Reserve personnel at 189,800...a ratio of 48 percent regular to 52 percent reserve components.  The U.S. Army has 187,000 soldiers deployed worldwide in 140 countries on six continents.

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Breaking Down The Organizational Chart

So how does the Army organize all those soldiers?  My basic training was at Fort Leonard Wood, MO where I was a PFC 4th squad leader of 4th platoon as a member of Delta 3-2.  That's D or Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade.

    • A Fire Team is comprised of 2 Riflemen
    • A squad, which is the smallest element in the Army structure, is typically made up of four to 10 soldiers
    • Normally, a platoon includes 16 to 44 soldiers. A platoon usually consists of three to four squads
    •  A company contains three to five platoons and a total of 60 to 200 soldiers.
    • A battalion includes four to six companies and between 300 and 1,000 soldiers.
    • A brigade includes 1,500 to 3,200 soldiers, and a brigade headquarters commands the tactical operation of two to five combat battalions.
    • A division, with 10,000 to 16,000 soldiers, usually consists of three brigade-sized elements
    • A corps includes 20,000 to 45,000 soldiers and is made up of two to five divisions
    • A field army combines two or more corps, with 50,000 or more soldiers

During my time at Fort Lewis, Washington,  I worked out of Headquarters Company of the 9th Infantry Division.

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The G.I. Bill Still Pays Off

One of the main reasons I enlisted was to earn the benefits of the G.I. Bill as a way to help pay for my college education.  It was a great program and made all the difference for me.

Today's GI Bill operates like this:

According to the VA website, you may qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill® if you’ve served on active duty for at least 90 days, with or without a break, after Sept. 10, 2001, and were honorably discharged. Non-veterans may also be eligible for the GI Bill. If you have unused GI Bill benefits, you may be able to transfer all or a portion of these available funds to your spouse or dependent children. According to the the VA, as of 2018, about 25 percent of people using these educational benefits are not veterans themselves.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can include:

  • Up to full tuition for in-state schools up to the maximum national average (in August 2018, this number was $23,671.94)
  • A basic allowance for housing based on the cost of living wherever the school is located; this is figured using data by ZIP code
  • Up to $1,000 for books and supplies

The percentage of your tuition benefit ranges from 40 to 100 percent and is based on how many months of active duty you served.

The Army helped me expand my understanding of the world and all the opportunities in it, introduced me to Washington State, gave me an education and a career, and helped me to grow up from a kid to a much more mature member of society.  So to the 247-year-old US Army, I say Thanks...and Happy Birthday!

LOOK: 100 years of American military history