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Service Obligations

Under the Obligatory Military Service Law enacted in 1956, all males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight were subject to conscription for military service. In 1985 the period of active duty was increased from fifteen to eighteen months, but before the new provision was introduced, the term of service was reduced to twelve months, effective in 1990. Beginning in 1996, conscripts will be required to serve ten months. The Basic Law guarantees the right to refuse military service on grounds of conscience.

During the 1970s, about 35,000 young men applied for conscientious objector status annually. Under liberalized rules and the decline of the overt threat from the east, the number who claimed the right to alternative civilian service in 1992 (134,000) was about as high as the number of draftees needed by the Bundeswehr. Alternative service, which is one-third longer than military service, usually takes the form of such social service as serving as a hospital orderly. In fact, one of the obstacles to shifting to an all-volunteer force is the effect it would have on the health and social agencies that have come to depend upon conscientious objectors to perform essential work.

Under Bundeswehr policy, all soldiers begin their careers as conscripts. Those performing satisfactorily may be induced--in part through considerable financial incentives--to volunteer for a short-term enlistment of two years, or as temporary career personnel for four years. Those attaining NCO rank during their four-year enlistment period may then be permitted to serve up to fifteen years or longer if accepted as career professionals. The army has been able to recruit about 10 percent of its conscripts for extended service.

The maximum retirement age of career sergeants is fifty-three. The mandatory retirement age rises, depending on rank, to fifty-nine for colonels and sixty for generals and medical officers. Special rules may apply to particular specialties.

Two branches of the Bundeswehr, the medical and health service and military music, accept women as volunteers. As of the mid-1990s, about 900 women were in uniform. No significant expansion of the role of women is foreseen, particularly in light of the overall contraction of the services. The Basic Law states: "Women shall not be required by law to render service in any unit of the armed forces. On no account shall they be employed in any service involving the use of arms." Of more than 50,000 women occupying civilian positions in national defense, only a few serve in higher civil service posts, although officially women enjoy the same career opportunities available to men.


The pay of conscripts amounted to about US$160 a month in the mid-1990s. Bonuses are paid at Christmas and upon discharge. Conscripts can be compensated for loss of their civilian wages, up to 60 percent of the lost income in the case of married personnel. Those recalled for reserve duty are also compensated for lost earnings. Longer-term volunteers receive about US$1,100 a month. Basic monthly pay for a sergeant as of early 1995 was about US$1,350 and for a sergeant first class about US$1,900. In addition to basic pay, allowances are paid for housing (about US$600 a month), dependents, hazardous duty, ship duty, and other special circumstances.

All temporary career and regular service personnel are entitled to a range of benefits, including compensation for duty in excess of fifty-six hours per week and change-of-station allowances. These include disbursements to cover extra educational expenses for children; a monthly travel allowance to distant duty stations; and a rental subsidy if local rent is high in proportion to income. Working wives are entitled to preferential employment at new duty stations.

Every qualified regular serviceman can expect to advance within his career category, to sergeant first class in the case of NCOs, to captain or naval lieutenant in the case of officer specialists, and to lieutenant colonel or naval commander for line officers. Upon retirement, regular personnel can be entitled to a pension of up to 75 percent of their final salary. In addition, they receive a one-time payment to compensate for the disadvantage of retiring earlier than civil servants, plus a 5 percent supplement to their retirement. Special reintegration allowances and preferential treatment for employment in the public sector are also available to service members, especially those below retirement age but with at least twelve years of service.

Data as of August 1995

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