BY any reckoning, the all-volunteer Army has been a huge success. Qualified men and women stepped forward to fill its ranks. It has fulfilled its mission to defend the nation.
Admirably, the military also has become the most racially integrated sector in American society.
Now, over the next four years, the armed forces will trim their numbers by at least 500,000 troops. This is the largest demobilization since World War II and rightly reflects the military realities of a post-cold-war world.
Learning how to match military skills with civilian jobs can be like learning a new language to those making a forced march into civilian life in the middle of a recession. To its credit, the Department of Defense seems to be handling the cutbacks ably. And from the first announcement of troop reductions, the Defense Department's focus has been to help not only the individual sailor, soldier, marine, or airman, but their families as well.
Each military base worldwide offers extensive outplacement counseling and a job-referral service. Having mastered the high-tech battlefield, the military easily put in place electronic bulletin boards where both soldier and prospective employer can link up.
The transition is expected to be most difficult for young combat troops. The fighting skills they learned are likely to be the least marketable. No employer, however, should ignore a demonstrated ability to both give and take orders, to lead as well as follow. This, along with courage, is a plus on any corporate roster.
Much is made in Washington about using the peace dividend to balance the budget and reduce the deficit. Certainly, we shouldn't overlook the larger dividend redounding to the nation: the thousands of highly trained, motivated, and socially balanced individuals - many with overseas work experience and acquaintance with foreign citizens - who are entering the civilian work force and, with their families, settling in mainstream communities.