AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
2022 marked one of the worst years for military recruiting since the Vietnam War. As American adversaries like Russia, China, and Iran grow more aggressive, military leaders are now turning to new incentive programs to try to fill their ranks – leading to concerns that lower standards could affect readiness.
The Army saw the worst recruiting shortfall in 2022, coming up 25% short of its goal – amounting to about 15,000 new soldiers. While the Pentagon has stressed that its current 465,000 troop count is enough to meet current mission demands, there is a significant danger to operational capacity moving forward if last year’s struggles are not reversed.
The Marine Corps, meanwhile, technically met its recruiting marks for 2022, but only after reducing its goals following a decade of missed targets. While the Navy also met its active duty enlisted recruitment goals last year, it only did so by increasing the number of recruits it accepted from the lowest aptitude percentile on the military’s qualification test, and also missed target numbers for active duty and reserve officers.
The Air Force also missed its goals for officers, and the Air National Guard and Reserve fell thousands of troops short. The Coast Guard saw its fourth straight year of missing its recruitment goals in 2022, a span where the branch has fallen an average of 20% short.
Amid these alarming recruitment failures and as some top generals are warning about a potential conflict with China on the horizon, recruiters are looking for any way to incentivize young people to sign up.
The Army has been the most active of the five branches so far in 2023 in implementing a renewed push for recruits. One of the simplest and most popular changes is the reintroduction of “Be All You Can Be” as the Army’s slogan. The widely beloved and popular advertising campaign was retired in January 2001. To this day, many consider it the signature Army motto, and its reintroduction was met with praise.
Along with the rhetorical changes came a series of financial and logistical incentives. Soldiers can now select their duty station right out of basic training. Army officials hope permitting junior enlisted service members to be stationed closer to their hometowns will ease their transition into service.
Recruits can also receive a guaranteed promotion if they convince a friend to enlist in the military. For doing so, they will be rewarded with a “recruiting ribbon.” Critics are concerned that such awards denigrate the integrity of other service medals, but the award is still moving forward.
Recruits are also being offered generous cash benefits for signing up, following similar moves by other branches. The Air Force offered more than $22 million in enlistment incentive bonuses in 2022. Army recruits can now earn up to $50,000 when they join.
Top Army brass insists these changes are being implemented to ensure recruitment standards do not need to be relaxed for new soldiers. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville stated in a recent interview, “We don’t want to lower standards. We think that quality is more important than quantity.”
Despite these assurances, the Army has already relaxed standards in several significant ways. Late last year, the Department of Defense allowed 700 recruits with behavioral disorders, specifically ADHD, to enlist without a waiver. If these recruits perform well in service, the DOD will likely expand these relaxed standards to even more psychological disorders. With over 77% of American youth ineligible for service, the measure is seen by many as a last resort.
Military leadership is hopeful that these changes will address the recruiting shortfall. Yet all of these measures seemingly fail to address the root issues that have created the crisis in the first place. A growing obesity and mental health epidemic among young people is creating a perpetually smaller applicant pool. Persistent concerns about “wokeness” in the military are also driving many would-be recruits away. And an insidious effort by the radical left to use the education system and other cultural institutions to inspire hatred for America rather than patriotism has made the prospect of military service less appealing to many young people.
None of these challenges are insurmountable, and the United States military has proven time and again that it can overcome great obstacles. But that doesn’t negate the need for urgent action, and for both political and military leaders to recognize the severity of the problem at hand.
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.