Czech young men can finally breathe a sigh of relief as Tuesday saw the last batch of conscripts begin their military service.
In 1868, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy introduced compulsory military service for the first time in the Czech lands. Needless to say, in the 136 years that have passed, much has changed in the way war is waged. With the Cold War long gone and the Czech Republic now a NATO member, the country faces no immediate threat of invasion, calling for a new image of the Czech military within the NATO alliance. As a result of this transformation process, Tuesday was the last ever time that young men had to enter compulsory military service. As of January 1st 2005, the Czech Army will become fully professional employing a total of 35,000 men and women.
As the head of the Army's training base in Vyskov, Colonel Milan Solik explains, the last batch of 1,400 conscripts will only be in service for eight months and will not be faced with the usual tough military training:
"In the first six weeks, they will go through basic training. After that, the professional training begins. In the course of three months, they will learn self-defence, survival skills, and will run through fire walls. After all of that, they will be sent to various divisions around the country, to finish their military service."
"Most of the new conscripts will be on guard duty, 35% of them. 34% will become drivers. And some will be chefs, mechanics, and paramedics."
While only a decade ago, military service was considered imperative by high-ranking army officials, many have now changed their minds. Chief of Staff, General Pavel Stefka, even welcomes the end of conscription, saying it takes a burden off the armed forces, as the conscript army had become ineffective. General Stefka also believes that the end of military service and the release of 7,000 professional soldiers this year will not weaken the country's ability to defend itself. On the contrary, he argues that the reform will help to focus on the creation of a smaller but more effective professional army. And in the case of an emergency, it can still turn to army reservists and to the crisis-reaction force of volunteers, which train military manoeuvres twice a year, and are better trained, equipped, and motivated, than conscript units.
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