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Germany & the End of Conscription

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LE
Kit Reviewer
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#1
The Guardian has begun new week long studies of our neighbouring Europeans, this week has been Germany, this article seemed of particular interest.

Marching orders for conscription in Germany, but what will take its place? | World news | The Guardian

Marching orders for conscription in Germany, but what will take its place?

Many are happy to avoid what was a German rite of passage, writes Helen Pidd, but the army faces a crisis



German conscripts are drilled at Berlin's Julius-Leber-Kaserne barracks. The last class of conscripts began their service in January. Photograph: Felix Clay for the Guardian

Under a clear night sky in Berlin, the elite drill unit of the German army rolled out their party piece in front of the ministry of defence. As a military band played Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water", the Wachbatallion performed der grosser Zapfenstreich, the military tattoo reserved for the most important national events.

The big occasion was the official departure last Thursday of the defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who resigned this month after being engulfed by a plagiarism scandal involving his PhD thesis. As Guttenberg jumped before he was pushed, he qualified for the grand goodbye, which involved more than 400 troops, two platoons of infantrymen and two lines of soldiers carrying torches. They even indulged him with his favourite song.

Guttenberg had only been in office 16 months but his short reign has changed the German army – the Bundeswehr – forever. In November he pushed through the most radical reform of the armed forces in decades, including one particularly drastic measure: the abolition of compulsory military service. The last class of conscripts began their six-month service in January, and from 1 July, military service will be no more.

Ever since conscription (Wehrdienst) was reintroduced in 1961 following the founding of the post-war Bundeswehr, young men have been trying to wriggle out of it. They have faked illnesses and injuries or – since the 1970s when it was allowed – claimed conscientious objection and been packed off to do compulsory community service instead (Zivildienst, also to be abolished on 1 July).

But while many 19-year-old German men cheered the news that they could spend a gap year backpacking in Thailand instead of being shouted at by a drill sergeant, not everyone is happy with the change. At the Julius Leber barracks near Tegel Airport in Berlin, home to the 1,200 soldiers from the Wachbatallion drill unit, two of the last young men ever to be called up were adamant it was a mistake to abolish conscription.
"I think Wehrdienst is important, even though I didn't really want to be here," said Tino Austerman, 20, from the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. "When I got called-up, I had an apprenticeship in a hotel and was earning money. Now I'm here getting up at 5am, obeying a 10pm curfew and spending at least half of every day standing up straight. But you learn a lot, especially about the importance of comradeship."

Max Schneider, also 20, hadn't been delighted to be called up either, having just rented a flat in Berlin, where he was an apprentice canal-builder.

"The timing wasn't great, but I had always wanted this experience," he said. "Now I'm thinking of extending my service and training to be a drill sergeant. I've only been here since January and I've made some really good friends, plus I think I would have a more secure job in the army than on the canals."

The Wachbatallion's commander, Lieutenant Commander Chris Schwarze, said he regretted the abolition of military service. "Conscription ensured a close relationship between the German army and the people. Without it, the only place people will hear about the army is on TV, when things go wrong and people die. If you have been a conscript, or your son has, you have a better understanding of how the military works and what it can do for society."

For obvious historical reasons, Germany has a problematic relationship with its army, which was formed originally as a volunteer force to defend its borders. All that changed in 1999, when Gerhard Schröder's centre-left government took the decision to join the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia in a bid to stop human rights abuses in Kosovo. Since 2002, German troops have also been serving – and dying – in Afghanistan.

Yet young Germans do not struggle as much as their parents with the idea of their army fighting abroad. "We've dealt with all that," said Schneider. "That was another chapter. Nowadays we have our duty and we fulfil it. What the Bundeswehr does now has nothing to do with the past."There is now political consensus that Germany needs an army of some description, but the abolition of Wehrdienst has created a serious recruitment problem for the professional army – now 20%-30% of Wehrpflichtigen (conscripts) enlist after serving their compulsory stint, according to warrant officer Hans-Jacob Hein, the Wachbatallion's press spokesman.

Guttenberg replaced Wehrdienst with a voluntary service, which offers men and women the chance to spend between 12 and 23 months as a soldier. The package is marginally more attractive: current conscripts earn a paltry €250 a month; volunteers are being enticed with monthly salaries of between €777 and €900, said Hein.

The Bundeswehr had hoped 3,000 would be ready for action on 1 April, but as of the end of February, just 500 had applied. The chief of the army, Lieutenant General Freer, wrote a letter warning of the consequences of the reform. "In transition to the new structure, we will have to accept big gaps in personnel for many years to come, which will not be compensated for due to the lack of applicants and the demographic dip [the country's lowering birthrate]," he said.

The two recruits at the Julius Leber barracks were similarly pessimistic about the chances of future generations signing up if they weren't forced to do so. "Why would they? I'd say from our group of recruits at this barracks, a minority actually wanted to be there. The others were only there because they couldn't get out of it," said Austermann.

His friend Schneider reckoned the ostensibly less exciting battalions, such as their Wachbatallion, would be hardest hit. "When people think of the army, they think of running around with guns in the woods and camping, but here we learn drills," he said.
At the Julius Leber barracks, the conscripts were being put through their paces, practising for the grosser Zapfenstreich to be performed for Guttenberg. The drill sergeant yelled out orders as they learned the complicated routine. When not performing in parades, the Wachbatallion spend a lot of time at Tegel meeting heads of state off planes.

But while many Germans will not shed a tear about the end of conscription, the simultaneous abolition of Zivildienst is a widespread cause for regret. Though a voluntary form of community service for all sexes and ages will be introduced from 1 July, most people doubt enough volunteers will come forward. Even the family ministry, which is responsible for administering Zivildienst, admits there will be an initial shortfall. Contrary to projections, there will not be 35,000 volunteers ready to start service on 1 July, it admitted this month. Currently, there are 90,000 Zivildienst places in Germany annually. The deputy family minister, Dr Hermann Kues, said he would mourn the loss of Zivildienst. "It was a good tradition for young people to do something for their community and I am sad to see it go," he said. "Zivildienst comes part and parcel with Wehrdienst – it was brought in as an alternative for conscientious objectors – and so if Wehrdienst goes, so does Zivildienst."

Charities which relied on "Zivis" fear how they will cope without the free labour. Zivis' meagre pocket money was provided by the state. The Catholic charity Caritas said it is expecting to receive just 3,500 volunteers, compared to the 10,000 Zivis it had in an average year.

The deputy family minister, Hermann Kues said that as Zivis were never supposed to take proper jobs from trained people, organisations should be able to get by without them. In practice, though, it was well known that untrained 19-year-olds were keeping hospitals and care homes ticking over, cleaning toilets, bathing patients and doing other essential tasks.

"We won't be able to compensate," Gudrum Schemel from Caritas in Lörrach, Baden Württemberg, told the Badische Zeitung. "Ever since Zivildienst was cut to six months from 12, we have had to cut projects. What we are really worried about is our support groups for people with dementia. They were always run by Zivis."
 
#2
Seems to the usual Guardian left wing slant on things, men going backpacking in Thailand rather than doing National service? Yeah just like all the British men in the UK do :roll:
Most boxheads I know approved of national service, its probably only being binned because someone wants to save money in the short term. Once they stop it, it will be next to impossible to start up again.
The Guardian doesnt seem to have done its homework too well, there were German troops in Croatia in 1996.
 
#3
Seems to the usual Guardian left wing slant on things, men going backpacking in Thailand rather than doing National service? Yeah just like all the British men in the UK do :roll:
Most boxheads I know approved of national service, its probably only being binned because someone wants to save money in the short term. Once they stop it, it will be next to impossible to start up again.
The Guardian doesnt seem to have done its homework too well, there were German troops in Croatia in 1996.

Might have actually came from the Bundswer itself. I read a story out of Germany that pointed at conscription as limiting the operational effectiveness of the Bunsdwer due to the issues of having to administer to thousands of troops which weren't deployable or there for any kind of long term commitment.
Killing Time: For Conscripts, German Military Service is Battle against Boredom - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
 
#4
Seems to the usual Guardian left wing slant on things, men going backpacking in Thailand rather than doing National service? Yeah just like all the British men in the UK do :roll:
Most boxheads I know approved of national service, its probably only being binned because someone wants to save money in the short term. Once they stop it, it will be next to impossible to start up again.
The Guardian doesnt seem to have done its homework too well, there were German troops in Croatia in 1996.
absolutely no leftwing slant at all.

you have absolutely no clue what you're talking about again and making presumptions.
more and more guys who have to do Wehrpflicht try and dodge it every year. it's simply pointless, outdated and a waste of money.
 
#5
Another interesting development, info given to me from a German guy on another forum, this is from a presentation from the Inspector of the Army on the new force structure:

In Einheiten mit unmittelbarem Einsatzbezug werden durch eine Neubewertung der DP KpChef als Major und KpEinsOffz als Hptm A 12, wodurch im Werdegang die Stehzeiten auf diesen Dienstposten klar verlängert werden wird, sowie – wie bereits heute teilweise in InfKp – die Ausplanung eines 2. ZgFhrOffz die Erfahrung dieses Personenkreises auf Führungspositionen und deren Führungskompetenz gestärkt.
Which translates as:

"In units with immediate deployment connections, through a new dotation of the duty posts company commander as major and company operations officer as captain (paygrade A 12) by which the standing times on those duty posts will be clearly prolonged, as well as - as in part today already in infantry companies - the provision of a second platoon leader officer, the experience of this circle in leadership positions and its leadership competency will be strengthened."
The German fellow added:

I'm pretty sure at least half of it is common rank inflation. Smaller force with less field-grade officer slots and the resultant pay - well, let's just put O-4s in command of companies, problem solved. The Bundeswehr "union" has pushed for this some time already under the all-pervasive "service attractivity" headline, along with making company sergeant a regular E-9 slot (mind, we have no CSM equivalent posts). Not that it's probably not beneficial to have people staying in company commands longer.
So for once the Germans are copying the Brits in a small way!
 
#6
absolutely no leftwing slant at all.

you have absolutely no clue what you're talking about again and making presumptions.
more and more guys who have to do Wehrpflicht try and dodge it every year. it's simply pointless, outdated and a waste of money.
I missed this until it was bumped, as I serve with German soldiers and civvies and you live in Switzerland, I'd say you were talking bollocks (and not for the first time) The Krauts have social work for those who want to avoid joining up.
Taking 18 years old off the street, giving them a job for several months, teaching them teamwork, giving them an education and not being an idle **** is ,in your opinon pointless, outdated and a waste of money? Wait until you come back to the UK and let me know if you think the same.
 
A

Aleegee1698

Guest
#7
The worst outcome of this scenario is the "Zivildienst", you had a choice, or if unfit for military service, had to spend the same amount of time as a "Zivvi" as you would of in the BW, this normally involved OAP and Child Care. Now that the obligation for both has gone, we see "OAP Care" companies growing like weeds and raking it in to abuse your Grandparents for princely sums from the Krankenkassen.

Its a win-win for the private sector, and for the BW, who have launched a massive Ad campaign and will no doubt be able to recruit along our lines, although the BW is divided into an old fashioned "3 class Army", Berufssoldat, Zeitsoldat, and Offizierslaufbahn, this needs modernising into at least our system of two.
 
#8
This is what the Bundeswher of the near future will look like. In German but the charts are pretty self-explanatory:

http://www.bmvg.de/resource/resourc...2EzMTM1NjMyMDIwMjAyMDIw/Anlage 1b NeuO SK.pdf

And also the major equipment holdings:

Künftig noch 225 Leos bei der Bundeswehr (mit Korrektur) : Augen geradeaus

Army

Leopard 2 – reduction from 350 to 225
Puma – reduction from 410 to 350 (deliveries starting in 2013)
Marder – to be removed from service
GTK Boxer - still 272
Fuchs - still 765
Fennek - still 212
Panzerhaubitze 2000 – reduction from 148 to 81
MLRS – reduction from 55 to 38
NH90 – reduction from 122 to 80
Tiger – reduction from 80 to 40
Bo105 - to be removed from service

Air Force

Eurofighter – reduction from 177 to 140 (all multi-role)
Tornado – reduction from 185 to 85
Transall – reduction from 80 to 60
A400M – reduction from 60 to 40
CH-53 – reduction from 82 to 64
Global Hawk – reduction from 6 to 4
SAATEG MALE UAV – reduction from 22 to 16
CSAR - requirement for 19 kits, but no immediate procurement
Patriot – reduction from 29 to 14
Mantis/NBS C-RAM - still 4

Navy:

P-3C Orion - still 8
SeaKing/Sea Lynx - reduction from 21 res. 22 to 0, but 30 new naval helicopters will be acquired (no decision on which type)
Frigate F122 – to be removed from service
Frigate F123 - still 4
Frigate F124 - still 3
Frigate F125 - still 4
Corvette K130 - still 5
Multi Role Combat Vessel 180 – reduction from 8 to 6
Submarine U212 - still 6
Mine Countermeasure Vessels – reduction from 20 to 10
Fleet Service Vessels - still 3
Joint Support Ship - 2 are planned, but no immediate procurement

Some info is still missing (e.g. how many Dingo MRAPs, Ozelot self-propelled SAM systems, Wiesels etc.).
 
#9
Might have actually came from the Bundswer itself. I read a story out of Germany that pointed at conscription as limiting the operational effectiveness of the Bunsdwer due to the issues of having to administer to thousands of troops which weren't deployable or there for any kind of long term commitment.
Killing Time: For Conscripts, German Military Service is Battle against Boredom - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
Does that allready count a thread necromancy...well, who cares :p

The shit about the conscrips system in its last stages was:
What can you do with some who only in the force for 9 or 10 month? They barely know whats the dangerous end on a rifle.
So as a company Co you are fucked. You had conscripts and enlisted soldiers in your company. You can't take the conscripts on the deployments,yet you have to train your enlisted who will be with you on the deployment. So you end up letting them make coffee/clean the floors (insert other shitty work here) so you have your hands free, to do propper training for your "real" soldiers.

I was all for the conscript system!! (If its still where at least 15-18 month service, and you'd be able to deploy them on missions)
This 9 month "army-internship" was an utter waste on money and men.
 
#10
the thing that worries me is , that the social services in germany will take a hammering..........you used to have a choise if you wanted to do your national service or do social service. many lads that wanted to study medicine ,or similar chose social service...elderly transport , meals on wheels etc......wonder what will happen there?


Ahem ...............just seen aleegee's post ...........carry on
 
#11
at some point the bundeswehr was thinking about making hohne the biggest kaserne in the north............not sure if that is still on the agenda, but many smaller kasernen are closeing around there
 
#12
I would be surprised if National Service was any more popular with the Germans than it was with the British. Apart from myopic members of the great British civilian public who continue to peer through rose-tinted glasses and who look on its passing with regret, it was largely a disastrous waste of time. It was continued after the war solely to provide the levels of manpower required for the great retreat from empire.

For the majority of conscripts it was a waste of 18 months (or 2 years) of their lives. For the majority of the regular army it was a waste of time and resources having to train, supervise and deploy a large body of men who, for the most part, resented being there, took every opportunity to skive and merely counted the days off to demob.

For those that say that it gave young men a sense of pride, purpose and discipline.... well, the Kray twins were National Servicemen.
 
#14
Didn't you get a nice suit when your left?
D'you know, I don't think that they even had that to look forward to. I believe that demob suits died out after WW2. I think that they got the back the civvy clothes that they had to parcel up when they first arrived at their training depots.
 
#15
...
...
For those that say that it gave young men a sense of pride, purpose and discipline.... well, the Kray twins were National Servicemen.
Well if not some pride and discipline, the it has at last made the hint that you don't have ONLY a shitload of rights, but also some duty.
But you're right, it was an awfully expensive way to do that. An with no credible threat to our territory in sight there is nor argument for a mass army left.

We've had 450 000 men under arms (+ about 700 000 reservists). There EVERY male got drafted. In the last stages there where only about 40- 50 000 conscripts at max in the forces.
It was not only a wast of money, but also utterly unjust (only about 30% of the young men got drafted and basicly lost one year to make a carrer).

As the red army left our doorstep, the need for conscription was effectively gone. But we nursed it for some years on (tbh).
Much like you do with your Rgt system ;-)
 
#16
at some point the bundeswehr was thinking about making hohne the biggest kaserne in the north............not sure if that is still on the agenda, but many smaller kasernen are closeing around there
As allways with such projects: These are political decisions, and have no realtion to the needs of the armed forces :p
When I started service with my BN in 2002, it was said that they are to move as the barracks will close imédiatly.(like: in the next 6-12 month)
When I left the BN in 2009, they where still in the same barracks :-D
 
#17
I enjoyed my 2 years with R.Sigs for the most part, I made some good mates and was a bloody sight fitter when I left than when I went in. The main thing was, I grew up, went in a lad and came out a man.
 
#18
"For those that say that it gave young men a sense of pride, purpose and discipline.... well, the Kray twins were National Servicemen".

Didn't the Krays go AWOL (or indeed desert?).

I know a lot of Germans across the politcal spectrum who regret the passing of conscription. I think they could have done it better, thst is to say, seperate the conscript units from the core professional units and deploy them on basic homeland and support functions. Back in the late 70s a couple of German friends of mine, knowing that they were about to be conscripted, actually volunteered for the Navy and served three years - better pay and conditions, better training. I understand that back in the days of National Service some canny guys from England, Scotland and Wales would come over and enlist in Northern Ireland for the Skins or the Faughs.

The Civilian service option for Germany also applied to things like forestry work, no doubt when it goes the Germans will need more immigrants to fill the gaps or will youngesters really volunteer for such jobs at very low rates of pay?
 
#20
Interesting article in the print edition of this week´s Spiegel magazine:

Since the end of conscription the Bundeswehr has massive problems in finding recruits. Ok, they had volunteers to enlist, but most quit at the end of the probation period after three months. It doesn´t help that there are plenty of jobs available on the civilian market as well, which are paying more and don´t include the possible option of having to risk one´s life and not very relationship friendly working conditions (divorces among Bundeswehr soldiers skyrocketed after longtime tours abroad got introduced).

The Bundeswehr now tries to get teenagers interested by offering summer camps, which is being ridiculed and critizised by the more leftwing press as "militarisation of society".
 

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