In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the war in Vietnam wound down, American attitudes toward the draft changed dramatically. The American people no longer supported forcing its young men to serve in the military against their will.
Modern compulsory military service had been in existence in one form or another in the U.S. since just before World War II. During the 1968 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon ran for president on a platform that included the abolishment of the draft and the institution of an all-volunteer Army.
Seeing the writing on the wall, senior Army leaders took action. In January 1971, the Army introduced “Project VOLAR” — VOLunteer ARmy.
Part of the Army’s overall modern volunteer initiative, VOLAR sought ways to make the Army more appealing to both recruits and serving junior enlisted Soldiers to boost the voluntary enlistments that would be necessary to man an all-volunteer force. The program sought to improve the quality of life for the everyday Soldier.
With themes such as “Opportunities Unlimited” and “Every Soldier a VIP,” the VOLAR program was introduced to Fort Lewis senior officers and noncommissioned officers Jan. 8, 1971. During the presentation at Carey Theater, Maj. Gen. Willard Pearson, U.S. Army Training Center commander, challenged all present to each re-enlist one quality Soldier in the next six months. Pearson emphasized how “NCOs have a key role in making the modern volunteer Army a success.” And that “All NCOs, not just career counselors, should be engaged in reenlistment activities.”
To promote the VOLAR program on Fort Lewis, contests were held to create both a VOLAR emblem and a mascot or character of “Sam Volar” to be the face of the new volunteer Army on post.
The winning emblem design went to Sgt. 1st Class Marvin Newton, of the 70th Support Battalion. The winning character of “Sam Volar” went to Spec. 4 Donna Gilbert, a Women’s Army Corps specialist from Madigan Hospital. Both were presented with $50 U.S. Savings Bonds by Maj. Gen. Alexander Bolling, the new U.S. Army Training Center commander.
Over the next year, Gilbert contributed her artwork of “Sam Volar” to the post newspaper at the time, The Fort Lewis Ranger, which is now The Northwest Guardian. Each week, cartoons of Sam urged Soldiers to “clean up litter in uniform” by taking pride in their appearance and other positive messages meant to increase morale and a sense of duty to the Army and the nation while extolling the personal benefits of Army life.
VOLAR quality of life programs affected the average Soldier on Fort Lewis the most. Policy changes under VOLAR ranged from relaxed grooming standards, so young Soldiers wouldn’t feel so apart from their civilian peers, to the elimination of Saturday formations and other nonessential military traditions that Army Chief of Staff Gen. William Westmoreland called “irritants.”
Westmoreland believed these irritants detracted from the job of soldiering and negatively impacted morale and retention. Under VOLAR, Soldiers were also allowed to personalize their barracks living spaces with nonissue furniture, bedding and “black light” posters popular during the period.
By the time the draft officially ended in June 1973, Project VOLAR had concluded as a formal Army program. However, many of the policy changes tested under VOLAR were retained by the Army as it moved into the era of the modern, professional all-volunteer force.