Giuseppe Pellicano


1955 - Ten years after the Nazi surrender and the end of World War II, the West German Bundestag (Lower House of Parliament) voted to authorize the recruitment of volunteers for the initial formation of the Bundeswehr (Federal Defense Force). Later in the year, a cadre of about 100 officers and NCOs were sworn in at a ceremony in Bonn. Training facilities and equipment were made available by the United States Army and 1,500 volunteers reported for the first training cycle, which began in January 1956. The Bundestag soon promulgated compulsory military service. The Bundeswehr consists of the Heer (Army), Marine (Navy), and the Luftwaffe (Air Force). Today it has approx. 247,100 Active Troops. 188,112 of these are professional Soldiers, 25,566 are 18–25 year old Conscripts, 33,417 are Volunteer Conscripts serving a longer military service, and 350,000 are Reserve Personnel. This means that more than 80% of the Armed Forces of Germany are made up of professional Soldat(en) (Soldiers), and not by conscripts.

By German law male citizens beginning at the age eighteen must serve their country. There are two ways German citizens may fulfill the Wehrpflicht (Conscription). They may serve a six month term of Wehrdienst (Military Service) or serve up to six years of Zivildienst (Civil Service).


Draftees who do not state that they are conscientious objectors and do not request service in the civil protection are by default drafted into Wehrdienst (Military Service). They must then go through Allgemeine Grundausbildung (Basic Training). This consists of two months of combat training, then four months service at the assigned post. The conscripted soldier will normally reach the rank of Obergefreiter (Comparable to U.S. Army Private First Class). During his service he is provided with free health care, housing, food and a railway ticket. Conscripts get paid between €9.41 ($13.03) and €10.95 ($15.16) per day of basic pay (depending on rank) plus several bonus payments such as distance-from-home pay, additional food pay for days absent from the service and others.

Conscripts cannot be deployed to active service in conflict theatres against their will. The German contributions to forces such as ISAF in Afghanistan or KFOR in Kosovo exclusively comprise of professional soldiers and volunteers. Conscripts who wish to partake in such missions must volunteer for a service extension.


Draftees can also opt for service in the Zivildienst (Civil Service), which is by law equal to Wehrdienst. The duties may include Medical Ambulance Organizations and Organizations for Disaster Relief Katastrophenschutz. This is subject to validation by local authorities, who usually are allowed a certain contingent of such volunteers per year of birth. Thus, organizations such as the Technical Relief Services, Volunteer Fire Departments or other Emergency Assistance and Crisis Management Agencies as the Red Cross are supported in performing their volunteer services in disaster response. In the ambulance services, their service can overlap with the service of conscientious objectors.

Draftees in the Civil Protection receive no payment outside of compensations for clothing and transportation fares.


Women are not included in the draft, but may serve voluntarily. Since 1975 women were allowed to serve in medical and music band functions. In 2001 the European Court of Justice ruled that limiting women to these functions was against European law. Subsequently all positions in the Bundeswehr were opened up for women.

Men can be exempt from service for various reasons. The most frequent reason for exoneration is a medical exemption. All conscripts, including conscientious objectors but excluding those exempt for other reasons, must attend a medical examination at the local county draft bureau. Those who do not fulfill certain standards do not have to serve, neither in the military nor in a civilian service.

Delinquents sentenced to more than a year or charged with a felony against peace, democracy, the state or state security will not be drafted for military service.

Priests will not be drafted. Another provision exonerates everyone from military service who has two siblings who have already served. Same is true for men whose father, mother or sibling died in a military or civil service. Men who are married, living in a registered civil union or have children are also free to choose.

Workers performing tasks in areas of important public interest may be exempt from military service on request. This mostly is valid for policemen, career firefighters and specialists in telecommunication or engineering services.


Refusal to perform Compulsory Military Service is considered desertion and punishable up to five years imprisonment. If a draft evader gives himself up within a month and agrees to perform service, the maximum punishment is three years. Disobeying military orders is punishable by up to three years imprisonment, and in certain cases up to five years. Absence without leave is punishable by up to three years imprisonment. Desertion is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, although deserters who return to their unit within a month may be sentenced to up to three years.


Bundeswehr Federal Defense Force

Heer Army

Marine Navy

Luftwaffe Air Force

Wehrpflicht Conscription

Wehrdienst Military Service

Zivildienst Civil Service

Allgemeine Grundausbildung Basic Training

Soldat Soldier


ger/101/2010/fall/giuseppe_pellicano.txt · Last modified: 2010/10/26 21:10 (external edit)
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