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The end of American ground forces’ direct participation in the Vietnam War in January 1973 left the U.S. Army a much weakened institution. Public trust in the Army was at a low point, with many blaming the military for the war as much as they blamed the civilian policymakers whose orders the military was carrying out. Many of the soldiers who returned from Vietnam faced a hostile or at best indifferent public reception. A number of soldiers had become drug addicts in Vietnam, where the supply of heroin was plentiful. Discipline, especially in the rear base camps, had begun breaking down in many units toward the end of the war as it became apparent that America was only interested in leaving Vietnam. A common saying of the time was that no one wanted to be the last man to die in Vietnam. Racial tension and even instances of “fragging” (tossing a fragmentation grenade into the sleeping quarters or office of a superior officer or noncommissioned officer [NCO] to injure or “warn”) led to some unit-cohesion problems. The Army that left Vietnam and returned to America and its garrisons in Germany and Korea in the early 1970s was at low ebb of morale, discipline, and military effectiveness.
The problems did not go away immediately with the end of the war. For those career soldiers and officers who remained in the Army, drug problems, poor leadership (especially at the junior NCO and officer levels), and severe racial problems often split units into hostile camps. Race riots were not uncommon, especially in the understrength kasserns of Germany as the Army tried to rebuild its European units that had been drained to support the Vietnam War. With the expiration of Selective Service induction authority on June 30, 1973, the establishment of a new, all-volunteer Army was under way. Many wondered if the Army could recover sufficiently to recruit enough quality soldiers and, even if it did so, if the country would be able to pay the bill. The result was far from certain...