more champagne

Champagne unit

Champagne unit is a pejorative term used to describe US military units that had been staffed by celebrities or people from wealthy or politically powerful families. Such units were often part of the National Guard, and assigned to lower-risk duty inside the United States. The connotation is that such units were havens for those with connections who wish to avoid conscription into more dangerous duty while still gaining the prestige afforded in the United States to military service. Over a century earlier, a term used to describe the same type of unit was silk-stocking regiment after the New York's 7th Regiment, whose well-heeled members actually built their own armory on Park Avenue in the upper East side of Manhattan.

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam war, service in the National Guard and Reserve components were seen as a way to avoid combat. Although some number of Guard and Reserve units were in fact "called-up" to combat duty in every US war since they were founded, the risk was especially low in the 1970s. Only 8700 of these soldiers were sent to Vietnam, 0.3% of the personnel who served. Furthermore, a greatly disproportionate number of famous, wealthy, and/or politically connected young men received slots in the Guard or Reserves during Vietnam, including 360 professional athletes such as Bill Bradley and Nolan Ryan.

Commenting on this disparity, General Colin Powell wrote in his autobiography, "I am angry that so many sons of the powerful and well placed and many professional athletes (who were probably healthier than any of us) managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to our country.

147th Fighter Group

The most infamous champagne unit was the Texas Air National Guard 147th Fighter Group, at Ellington Air Base in Houston. During the Vietnam War many well-connected sons landed in this posting, sometimes with the help of politicians such as Ben Barnes.

No More Champagne

The Total Force Policy, implemented in the aftermath of the Vietnam War by General Creighton Abrams, has eliminated the Guard's and Reserve's shelter from combat. In 2004, National Guard and Reserve units comprised 40 percent of all US forces serving in Iraq. As of 2006, 270,000 Guard members (60% of the total force) had been deployed overseas for the maximum amount of time allowed by military regulations.


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