The 2023 Defense Authorization Bill has already landed on Capitol Hill and it will dominate much discussion and change forces a lot by the time it is finally approved later this year.
But one of the measure’s most glaring provisions: A 12,000-member decrease in the size of the U.S. military’s largest branch, the Army.
It’s not that the Army wants to cut its size; rather, according to Thomas Spoehr of the Heritage Foundation, the brass have no choice because they cannot seem to entice enough new recruits to fill the all-volunteer ranks.
Worse, he writes at PopularMilitary.com, it appears as though all branches of the military are going to come up short of this fiscal year’s recruiting goals:
Indeed, this year it’s possible none of the services will meet their recruiting goals. Only halfway into the fiscal year, the Army and the Navy recently raised their bonuses for recruits to an all-time high of $50,000, the head of Air Force recruiting told his recruiters “we have warning lights flashing,” and the Marine Corps is short recruiters because the recruiting business now is so difficult.
Part of the reason for these shortages could be due to a surplus of jobs in the civilian economy. But there were a surplus of jobs during the Trump administration, and recruiting goals were met:
The recruiting crisis is the result of a “perfect storm” of multiple factors, all coming to a head in 2022.
With each passing year, fewer and fewer young people qualify for military service. Widespread obesity (36 percent for ages 18-39), increasing numbers of youth afflicted with mental health issues (26 percent of youth aged 18-25), and other issues including criminal records or lack of high-school degrees is driving down the percentage of youths qualified to enlist without a waiver.
In 2016 a Pentagon study reported only 29 percent of Americans age 17 to 24 were eligible to enlist. Multiple sources now report that number has dropped to below 25 percent.
In the past, young people typically joined the military for economic and/or patriotic reasons. But today, economically, it makes more sense to work in the civilian world. Also, there appears to be a growing disenfranchisement with military service, and that can directly be related to the current administration, many believe, according to Spoehr.
“A recent Gallup poll showed that between 2017 and 2022, Americans who believe military officers possess ‘high ethics’ declined by a full 10 points, down to 61 percent, the lowest since they began measuring,” he wrote.
He added that there is little promotion of the honors of serving in the military in American culture today, particularly within institutions of higher learning.
“Civic education in schools that emphasizes national service is missing in action. National leaders and role models rarely — if ever — discuss the value of public and military service,” he wrote, adding that it all adds up to “great danger for America” that will not be easily reversed:
Pay and benefits must be re-imagined to be competitive with the private sector. The military, schools and society must do more to work with young people to help them overcome obesity and other qualification challenges. And President Joe Biden, his administration, Congress, and other leaders must do much more to portray military service as a virtue and an unqualified “good.”