WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army has lost about 15,000 soldiers — or 25% — below its recruiting goal this year, officials confirmed Friday, despite a frantic effort to close the gap widely expected over the past year. a year in which all military services struggled in a tight job market to find young people ready and able to enlist.
While the Army was the only service that fell short of its target, all the others had to dig deep into their pools of delayed entry candidates, which will put them behind at the start of the next recruiting year. Saturday.
The worsening problem is prompting debate over whether the U.S. combat force should be restructured or reduced if the services cannot recruit enough, and could also put additional pressure on the National Guard and Reserve to help meet mission requirements.
Officials say the Marine Corps, which typically enters each exercise with up to 50 percent of its recruiting target already locked in, has just over 30 percent. And the Air Force and Navy will only have about 10% of their goals by the start of the new fiscal year. The Air Force usually has around 25%. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of recruitment totals that have not yet been released.
“In the Army’s toughest recruiting year since the start of the all-volunteer force, we will only achieve 75 percent of our recruiting goal for fiscal year 22,” the Secretary of the Army said. Army Christine Wormuth in a statement to The Associated Press. “The Army will maintain readiness and meet all of our national security requirements. If recruiting challenges persist, we will call on the Guard and Reserve to augment active duty forces, and we may need to reduce our force structure.
Officials said the army had recruited around 45,000 soldiers during the exercise which ended on Friday. The goal was 60,000.
The Air Force, meanwhile, was able to pull enough recruits from its Deferred Entry pool to exactly meet its goal of recruiting 26,151 recruits this year.
“Using the Air Force lexicon, I would say we’re making a point-blank landing as we come to the end of FY22, and we’re going to have to turn around on October 1 and take off after burning,” Maj. Gen. Edward Thomas, chief of the Air Force’s recruiting department, said at a conference last week. “We are going to start 2023 in a more difficult position than we started 2022.”
Military leaders have used increased enlistment bonuses and other programs to try to boost their numbers this year, but say it’s getting harder to compete with private industry in the job market. tense. And as they look to the future, they fear that if declining enlistment trends continue, the Pentagon may have to reassess its force requirements and find ways to make the military a more attractive profession for the dwindling number of young Americans able to meet mental and mental needs. physical requirements for service.
At the start of this year, military leaders were already prepared for a poor recruiting season. The army, for example, announced several months ago that it would have to adjust the planned size of its total force this year from 476,000 to around 466,000. The large recruiting shortfall has been somewhat offset by the capacity of the Army to exceed its retention target – keeping 104% of the targeted number of soldiers in the service.
The causes of recruitment struggles are many and varied.
Two years of the pandemic have closed recruiters’ access to schools, public events, fairs and other youth organizations where they often find prospects. The move to online recruiting – with in-person meetings shut down – has been only marginally successful. And some of the in-person access has been slow to reopen.
At the same time, companies like McDonalds are now courting workers with increased tuition and other perks that for years made the military an attractive profession. Military leaders say they are suffering from the same labor shortages as restaurants, airlines, stores and other businesses are desperate for workers.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that only an estimated 23% of young people can meet military, educational and moral requirements – many are disqualified for reasons ranging from medical issues to criminal records and tattoos.
“We remain committed to maintaining our standards, investing in America’s youth, and prioritizing quality over quantity,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville.
It’s unclear how much the COVID-19 vaccine debate plays into recruitment struggles. So far, the military has fired just over 1,700 soldiers for refusing to take the mandatory vaccine. This is a tiny fraction of the overall force size.
At the same time, the patriotism that fueled the rush into military service following the September 11 attacks has faded. Some may look around and see no more wars and terrorists to fight, so they look the other way. And others see lucrative hiring drives by private industry and know that the salaries will be better than military pay, and they will be less likely to end up injured or killed in those jobs.
The services are grappling with a number of new programs and other changes to bolster recruitment, but face lingering questions about how best to convince young people that military life is a viable option for them.
At a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on recruiting challenges, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., challenged the services to “think outside the box, create new career paths, ‘Offering innovative compensation and incentive structures and realigning certain capabilities of military and civilian workforces should all be on the table.
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