End of compulsory military service ushers in era of professional army

Die letzten Wehrpflichtigen verlassen noch vor Weihnachten die Kasernen (Foto: CTK)
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The changing of the Guard at Prague Castle. From this Wednesday - like every other unit of the Czech Army the Castle will be fully professional. For the last 140 years, the Czech army has been based on compulsory military service, but now, the army has been transformed to a downsized, professional force. We asked a few people in Prague's streets how they see this historic transformation.

Photo: CTK
University student: "It's not obligatory and that's very good because you have a choice if you want to go to the army or not."

Accountant: "I didn't do military or civil service. I have a father who is a doctor so, well, I had a faked illness. But I think that a professional army will be better."

Unemployed: "You don't have to go to the military school now. I think that's very, very good for the young men. I don't like the army and military — military school was very difficult."

Recent graduate: "Some of my friends are professionals in the army and it's a very good job because the money in the army is ... it's not so bad. Yeah, it's okay."

Photo: CTK
The last soldiers to go through compulsory military service go home on Wednesday. The draft will now only be a last resort in case of a serious threat or a state of war. Professional soldiers will undergo similar training to the conscripts they have replaced. It will take two years, but will be more demanding.

The Czech Army has already launched a huge campaign to recruit new soldiers. According to the Defense Ministry, the Czech Army has already had a majority of professional soldiers for several months and is ready for the change.

But the transformation of the Army will also affect society in a number of other areas. Many hospitals, institutes, and non-profit organizations will lose an important labor force of young men who chose community service as an alternative to being called up.

As the spokesman of Prague's Vinohrady Hospital, Leos Kabat, says, these men usually did the least qualified work.

"For example in the Hospital for Terminal Illnesses we've had about twelve of these men on alternative service. They helped to bathe and move the patients. Or when a nurse was busy they accompanied the patient to the X-ray department etc."

To hire young men on alternative service was very convenient for these institutions. The money they will have to pay to professionals will be much higher. On top of that, as Leos Kabat says - most of the men on alternative service turned out to be very useful and committed.

"Our experience with them was generally positive. Some of them have even taken an ambulance course and they've stayed on as our employees."

So this will be one of many knock-on effects of the professionalisation of the Czech army. For all these problems, there is near consensus in the Czech Republic that the move was a necessary step in modernizing armed forces that had been designed to serve a totalitarian state at the time of the Cold War.