Facing A Perfect Storm: The Military Recruiting Crisis
The United States all-volunteer force has never struggled so much to bring qualified and willing recruits through the door. The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the military branches to switch to remote recruiting methods, and the Great Resignation workplace trend that followed, driving civilian unemployment to record lows, hit services already anticipating a slow-building disaster
As military leaders testified at the end of September, only one in 11 eligible Americans aged 18 to 24 want to serve, and the pool of those who meet basic eligibility requirements is itself steadily shrinking. Multiple personnel experts described the convergence of all these realities as a perfect storm of bad news for the military.
At the close of the 2022 fiscal year, only the Marine Corps the smallest Defense Department service except for the Space Force met both active-duty and reserve recruiting goals. The Army, the largest of the services, was in the worst position: falling short by 15,000 active-duty troops, even after lowering its target by 9,000 troops.
And no one is expecting 2023 to bring better prospects for recruiting.
A Marine Corps recruit participates in log drills at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on Nov. 22, 2021. Drill instructors motivated recruits to complete the exercises. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Julian Elliott-Drouin/Marine Corps
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Overall confidence in U.S. government institutions is also decreasing, and that has hit the U.S. military as well. In 2021 the annual Reagan National Defense Survey, conducted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, found that just 45% of Americans had a great deal of trust and confidence in the military, down 25 points since 2018.
The trend will most likely continue as the overall military shrinks and familiarity with service keeps dropping, say the officials. In 2021, an Army study found that 75% of Americans ages 16-28 knew little to nothing about the Army.
This recruiting crisis is like a slow-moving wave coming at us, said one senior defense official involved in recruiting and personnel issues. As the military has gotten smaller and the public have gotten less and less familiar with those in uniform, it has grown. And Covid accelerated it.
A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment.
Army Cuts High School Diploma Requirement To Boost Recruiting
New recruits are no longer required to have a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate to join the U.S. Army if theyre willing to enlist before the end of the 2022 fiscal year, the service announced Thursday.
Military.com first reported the Army announcement on Friday, which said individuals can enlist in the service without the previously required proof of high-school level education if theyre willing to ship to basic training before the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. Prospective recruits must still be at least 18 years, qualify for a job in the active-duty Army and score at least 50 points on the 100-point Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery .
A score of 50 on the ASVAB is relatively low, though a score of 31 is the bare minimum to qualify for Army service in general.
The Army has allowed people to enlist at the age of 17 without having finished high school through the Future Soldiers Program, but they would have to finish their high school education or equivalent program before they could ship to basic training.
This change in requirements to enlist in the Army comes as the service has struggled in recent months to meet its recruiting goals. The Army and other military branches have been offering new incentives amid struggles in recruiting across the board.
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At Least Two Of Its Oft
As experts and Army leaders work to boost the services sagging recruitment, theyre discovering that two oft-cited factors arent all that important: young peoples ineligibility rates and propensity to serve.
Its true that only 23 percent of Americans are eligible for military service, and an even smaller portion of that percentage are interested in serving, as Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville often says when asked about his services recruiting woes. But these factors dont explain the current crisis, RAND Corporation Senior Economist Beth Asche said at a Heritage Foundation event on Tuesday.
Propensity is low, but propensity has always been low, Asche said. Another one is eligibility. That’s a problem, and it’s definitely worthy of concern and attention. But again, eligibility has also been a perennial problem for many years.
These two factors are red herrings that there’s been attention paid to, but I don’t think there’s a cause of the recent crisis, she said.
Asche said the current crisis is driven less by propensity and eligibility rates than by other factors. She also poured cold water on theories that arent borne out by visible evidence.
Both Asche and Davis, who also spoke at the Heritage event, avoided answering a question about whether the COVID-19 vaccine mandate was hurting recruiting.
The Pandemic Is Only One Reason
AMERICAS ARMY is struggling to . Recruitment in the 2022 fiscal year, which concluded on September 30th, appears to have been the worst since the draft ended in 1973. The army brought in about 45,000 recruits it had aimed for 60,000. Christine Wormuth, the Secretary of the Army, has warned that, barring a turnaround, members of the National Guard and Army Reserve will need to be put on active duty. It may also be necessary, she added, for the army to trim force structure, which could mean shutting down units. This years air-force and navy recruitment drives fared better, but partly because those services enlisted people from pools of delayed-entry recruits, who had already signed up. Even so, they, too, missed targets. What is going on?
Although the drop is notable, those figures underline the fact that, even before the pandemic, only a small share of ostensibly eligible Americans met the armys criteria. Recruits must be physically fit, pass a science, maths and language test, and be deemed in good moral standing, meaning that they have not committed a felony and do not have a serious problem with drugs or alcohol. In some cases those rules have not adapted to changes in the law. , for example, is now illegal in all circumstances in just four states, by one reckoning. But the army still considers marijuana use a disqualifier .
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Army Recruiting Challenges Mean Force Could Shrink By Tens Of Thousands More Soldiers
In the span of just a couple of years, the Army faces the prospect of seeing its active duty force shrink by as much as 8.5%. Its not for lack of funding, budgets have been robust. Its mainly because its gotten a heck of a lot harder in recent months to entice the tens of thousands of new recruits the Army personnel system demands each year, and officials dont see the problem getting better anytime…
In the span of just a couple of years, the Army faces the prospect of seeing its active duty force shrink by as much as 8.5%. Its not for lack of funding, budgets have been robust. Its mainly because its gotten a heck of a lot harder in recent months to entice the tens of thousands of new recruits the Army personnel system demands each year, and officials dont see the problem getting better anytime soon.
The service started its planning for fiscal year 2023 knowing it was going to have a big recruiting challenge on its hands. But the task turned out to be even more daunting than officials first believed, and the services active duty end strength will likely decline by tens of thousands of additional soldiers next year.
In its 2023 budget submission, the Army cut its proposed end strength target from 485,000 to 473,000, citing difficulties in attracting high-quality talent. But its number-two ranking officer told Congress this week even that number isnt achievable. The new forecast is between 445,000 and 455,000.
How Political Perceptions May Be Stifling The Willingness To Serve
The Army missed its recruiting goal by about 15,000 new soldiers in 2022, coming up 25% short of its goal at a time when each of the services were struggling to meet their benchmarks. Military officials worry that all of the branches have had to reach deep into their pools of delayed entry applicants, a move that puts them behind in recruiting for the new year.
Military recruiters have leaned on tried-and-true factors to explain the challenges, including low unemployment and a dearth of applicants up to physical, educational and behavioral standards.
But the truth is, no one keeps detailed data on whats stopping Americas youth from signing up. Experts and senior military leaders point to the perennial factors of competition from the private sector and a dwindling number of young Americans both qualified and interested in military service. But what they dont have much information on is why that propensity is going down, and whether the country is undergoing an ideological shift in attitude toward military service.
One possibility that is increasingly resonating with veterans is that the military is too woke. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., for example, is among a group of Republican senators who have repeatedly blamed recruiting problems on the Biden administration for trying to build a woke Army.
Tech. Sgt. Rachel Armstrong congratulates airmen during a basic military training graduation ceremony at Joint Base San Antonio July 13.
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With Few Able And Fewer Willing Us Military Cant Find Recruits
Fighting headwinds from the pandemic, the tight labor market and demographic shifts, the armed forces may fall further short of enlistment quotas this year than they have in decades.
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FOUNTAIN, Colo. The local Army recruiting station was empty. The normally reliable recruiting grounds at the nearby Walmart were a bust. With the Army still thousands of soldiers short of its recruiting goal, the station commander, Sgt. First Class James Pulliam, dressed head to toe in camouflage, scanned a strip-mall parking lot for targets.
He spotted a young woman getting out of a car, and put on his best salesman smile.
Hey, howd you know I was going to be here today! the sergeant said with an affable Carolina drawl, as if greeting an old friend. Im going to help put you in the Army!
These are tough times for military recruiting. Almost across the board, the armed forces are experiencing large shortfalls in enlistments this year a deficit of thousands of entry-level troops that is on pace to be worse than any since just after the Vietnam War. It threatens to throw a wrench into the militarys machinery, leaving critical jobs unfilled and some platoons with too few people to function.
The Army Is Having No Issue Retaining Soldiers Amid A Crisis Recruiting New Ones
The Army is in the midst of a historic recruiting slump, but the active-duty soldiers who do get into the uniform want to stay.
The service has surpassed more than 100% of its retention goals every year since 2017, including new numbers for 2022, according to internal data reviewed by Military.com, meaning more active-duty soldiers are sticking around than the service intended.
“Some soldiers really love it for themselves. Some people love it for their families,” Sgt. Maj. Tobey Whitney, the Army’s senior career counselor, told Military.com in an interview. “There’s so many factors that come into play on why a soldier stays, but we’re definitely seeing that. For soldiers who actually decide to join the Army, the vast majority of them stay.”
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Army planners aim to keep tens of thousands of soldiers from leaving when their contracts are set to expire each year. That number ranges, but typically stays between 50,000 and 60,000. This year, the service convinced 58,000 soldiers to extend their service time, meeting 104% of its retention goal.
“It probably averages out,” Whitney said about whether a lack of a war makes retention easier or more difficult.
— Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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They Want Purpose: Gen Z Is Vital To Solving Militarys Recruiting Problems Army Secretary Says
Lt. Col. David Clukey , commander of the Phoenix Recruiting Battalion, conducts an oath of enlistment ceremony in March 2017 for two Phoenix future soldiers.
WASHINGTON The Armys top civilian acknowledged Friday that there are serious challenges in recruiting new troops to the largest U.S. military branch, and she pointed to several possible fixes that begin with young Americans identified as Generation Z.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the service branch aimed to recruit 60,000 new members last year. It got 45,000.
Thats a pretty big shortfall, she said during an event with the left-leaning Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Some of the challenges in recruiting have been a long time coming. They are not new developments.
Earlier this year, Army leaders said they were aiming for a total force of 473,000 including new recruits and existing troops by the time fiscal 2022 ended Oct. 1. The service later cut that target by 12,000 and then another 6,000 by the summer.
The Army said the total amount ultimately came in at roughly 465,000, still thousands of troops less than the number budgeted for 2022.
Some of the recruiting troubles, such as declining trust in military institutions, have been known for years, defense officials have said. Others, like the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, are new.
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The Army is offering flexible 2-year to 6-year contracts, duty stations of choice, a program where enlistees can be stationed with their friends, and a $10,000 quick-ship bonus.
Some of the service branches are offering unprecedented bonuses for signing up or re-enlisting, up to $50,000 for certain specialties in the Army, Air Force and the Navy.
But one U.S. military official said bonuses can only help so much. We can throw money at the problem all we want, but until we change how young people see us in uniform, we are going to struggle to get them to raise their right hands.
Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
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Army Brings Back Be All You Can Be Slogan
The U.S. Army is falling back on an old advertising strategy to help inspire a new generation of recruits, hoping Gen Z will respond to the 80s and 90s era slogan.
The rebrand is aimed at thinning out the gap left last year when the Army failed to sign up enough recruits, falling short of its goal by 15,000 soldiers. Its the most severe recruiting challenge the Army has seen since the end of the draft in 1973.
Despite a noticeable lack of female soldiers, they were everything youd want in a military ad jumping out of helicopters, hopping aboard tanks and an all-American homecoming to mom and dad on the tarmac.
In the two decades the Army used the Be All You Can Be slogan, the branch greatly increased the number and quality of its recruits. This year, its hoping the slogan will work its magic yet again.
In 2022, the military fell short of its recruitment goals in every branch but the Marines and Space Force. The Army was down 15,000 soldiers, a 25% deficiency.
A recent Pentagon study found 77% percent of young Americans are unfit for service without a waiver due to weight, drug use or other physical or mental health reasons.
Army recruiting challenges:
- 50% of youth admit knowing little to nothing about the military
- 71% of youth dont qualify for service
- Only 1% of the United States population currently serves
This Years Numbers So Far
The Army has met about 40% of its enlisted recruiting mission for FY22, with just over three months left in the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The final quarter the summer is typically when the services recruit the most candidates following high school graduation.
Space Force will also likely make its goal, according to U.S. military officials, but as the newest branch of the military it only looks to recruit about 500 Guardians this fiscal year.
The U.S. Air Force, on the other hand, has to recruit roughly 100 times as many airmen, about 50,000, but is currently more than 4,000 below where it should be at this point in the fiscal year. While the Air National Guard and Reserve are unlikely to meet their goals, the active duty are taking it week to week, according to a senior U.S. military official. We are hopeful that the active duty will meet their goal. Hopeful, but not certain, the official said.
The last time the Air Force missed its goal was fiscal 1999, and the last time before that was 1979.
Navy officials, who have been using the summer movie Top Gun: Maverick to try to attract recruits, say they hope to ultimately meet their active-duty and overall strength goals.
The active-duty Marine Corps is likely to make its recruiting goals this year. The Marine in charge of manpower, however, recently told Congress that 2022 is arguably the most challenging recruiting year since the inception of the all-volunteer force.
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