AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Late last month, in a series of unprecedented moves, the U.S. Army announced that it would no longer require High School Diplomas or GEDs for new recruits and was relaxing its ban on visible hand and neck tattoos. While the Army reversed the GED policy only a week later amid swift backlash, it was the clearest sign yet of just how desperate America’s military has become for new recruits – both as a result of factors outside the control of military leaders and glaring policy failures that may be driving away potential enlistees.
Since the end of active conscription on January 27, 1973, the United States Military has been an all-volunteer force. While enlistment figures were initially steady, they have begun to lag in recent years. In 1980, about 18% of all Americans were veterans, according to Pew Research. By 2018, that number had shrunk to 7%. Today, less than one percent of the country is currently serving in uniform.
Most Americans who are enlisting today also come from military families – almost 80 percent of Americans who serve have at least one family member who is a veteran, and over 30 percent have an active-duty parent. While building family legacies of patriotic service is certainly admirable, that fact, combined with the shrinking overall percentage of Americans with a military background, means that the military community as a whole is becoming more insular and less visible – Americans who aren’t in the military are less and less likely to know someone who is. But there are some signs that even this critical source of recruits may be drying up; according to one new survey, “only 62.9 percent of military and veteran families would recommend military life, down from 74.5 percent in 2019.” That’s an extraordinary drop in just two years.
The net result of these trends is that every branch of the military is facing a drastic shortfall of new enlistees. As of late June, the Army was 60% short of its target numbers. The Air Force is 4,000 short on new recruits. Though the Navy and Marine Corps won’t release figures until later this year, they have also acknowledged that they are unlikely to meet recruitment quotas.
Several factors are likely contributing to this recruitment crisis – some of which are within the Defense Department’s control, some of which are not. For example, no one could have predicted the disastrous effect the COVID-19 pandemic would have on recruitment as recruiters suddenly lost the ability to connect face-to-face with young people in places like high schools, malls, and sporting events. Moreover, with a tight labor market leading to increased demand for entry-level workers, a military career may seem less enticing to otherwise promising candidates.
Larger societal trends have also negatively affected recruitment. In recent decades, America’s youth have become drastically less healthy – as of 2021, almost 75% of Americans aged 17-24 are ineligible to serve, mostly due to obesity or criminal histories. The Army has already considered relaxing its physical fitness requirements several times in recent years, something other branches may soon also be forced to do.
While rank-and-file service members have continued to serve their country with honor and dignity, upholding the proudest traditions of the U.S. military, recent failures as a result of poor leadership may also be driving away potential recruits. On this front, nothing looms larger than President Joe Biden’s disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan last year, which left 13 American service members dead. Following the debacle, a report on the attitudes of Afghanistan veterans found that “73% feel betrayed, and 67% feel humiliated.” Many were outraged that no one responsible for the fiasco was held accountable, even as the Biden administration and the mainstream media quickly moved on. Though the Afghanistan withdrawal was just the latest American misadventure in the Middle East caused entirely by failed leadership, it is one that is likely to stick in the minds of Americans for some time – including potential future recruits.
Even as the military struggles to fill its ranks, Pentagon bureaucrats and Biden administration officials have also plowed ahead with their plans to “wokeify” the military, alienating vast swaths of Americans in the process. The Army and Navy have both pushed Critical Race Theory texts like Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be An Anti-Racist on their “recommended reading list.” CRT has also made its way into the curriculum at West Point and other military academies. Just last month, the Navy was slammed for forcing new recruits to watch training videos on “proper pronoun usage.” Several Republicans in Congress have also raised concerns about woke policies in this year’s military funding bill.
With Russia and China growing more aggressive on the world stage and the United States potentially behind in missile and cyber defense technology, the threats to the country are growing by the day. A strong military has always been America’s best security policy and one that is all the more necessary in an increasingly unstable world. No matter the cause of the recruiting shortfall, our leaders have a responsibility to solve it – the future of the country and the world may depend upon it.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.
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