Department of the Army Historical Summary: FY 1973



Fiscal year 1973 will be notable in Army history as the year in which the Vietnam War—the longest conflict in American history—ended. On the operational side, the United States disengaged, transferred remaining responsibility to the South Vietnamese, and withdrew from the theater of war. On the institutional side, the Army contracted to postwar strength, reached the zero-draft phase line, moved well along toward all-volunteer status, and in general converted from wartime to peacetime operation.

It has been estimated that upwards of three and a half million Americans served in Southeast Asia from January 1961 through June 1973. Of this cumulative total, somewhere on the order of 2,600,000 served in South Vietnam, the bulk of them Army. At the peak of the U.S. involvement, there were well over half a million Americans in South Vietnam, more than 360,000 of them Army personnel. The task of ending that commitment—of training and equipping the host nation to take on the entire combat burden, of disengaging from field operations, of redeploying the troops, and of redistributing immense stores of materiel—was completed in fiscal year 1973 following the cease-fire produced by long years of fighting, pacification, military assistance, and diplomatic negotiation.

With a rapid turnover of personnel because of short tours and a two-year draft obligation, the Army was not able to field a major combat force on the far side of the world without disrupting assignment and rotational patterns, skill distribution, training, and worldwide readiness. During the Vietnam War these problems were heightened initially by the steady expansion of the conflict and the Army, and later by the steady contraction of both. Stability became possible only with the cease-fire, complete withdrawal from the war, and a return to fixed peacetime strength levels. All three of these circumstances occurred in the closing half of the fiscal year.

For the Army, stability meant continuity rather than inactivity. With the return to peacetime conditions it became possible to stabilize training, education, assignment, leadership, expenditures, and morale, among other things. Organizational weaknesses exposed by the war will soon be corrected as force structure changes begun in fiscal year 1973 continue into fiscal year 1974.

After several years of national and institutional effort, the draft was eliminated and the Army neared its goal of an all-volunteer force, despite


the gradual disappearance of draft motivation and a suspension of draft calls in the final six months of conscription authority. The task in fiscal year 1974 and beyond will be to offset the loss of the remaining draftees and to maintain the Army's authorized strength solely with volunteers.

A combination of inducements has helped to bring the goal of an all-volunteer force within reach. Improvements in pay, housing, bonuses, assignment patterns, and recreation went far to encourage existing personnel to re-enlist. These factors, along with a major recruiting campaign and a variety of unit and area enlistment options, produced new volunteers, although at considerable cost. One of the hard facts of national defense today, indeed, is the high cost of building and maintaining a volunteer force. By necessity and by inclination, the Army has earmarked a large proportion of the funds appropriated for national defense for so-called people-related costs. It is unlikely that this will change.

All of the factors outlined above—the end of the war, withdrawal from Vietnam, reduction in size, elimination of the draft, all-volunteer composition, stability of operation, improvements in compensation, enhancement of living conditions, the transition to peace—opened the way for the development of a fully trained, well-disciplined, thoroughly professional Army. Barring unforeseen interruptions, the coming year will be one in which the United States Army can concentrate on that goal.


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Last updated 9 August 2004