If the US military loses its all-volunteer force, it could profoundly impact national security. But figuring out why it is struggling to recruit can take time and effort.
Some blame the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on test scores; others point to an overly competitive job market and concerns about “wokeism.” However, these issues need to be explained the problem fully.
Low Unemployment Rates
Last year, the Army fell tens of thousands of people short of its recruiting goals. The Army and other services must find new ways to recruit – without lowering standards, which would undermine morale and readiness – and address the broader issue of Americans’ propensity to serve.
Service secretaries, three-star generals, and other top military leaders have been sounding the alarm, but they can’t do it alone. They need help from Congress and a national dialogue that addresses the underlying factors that have led to this recruiting crisis. It’s time to stop pointing fingers and start discussing bold changes. The military needs to stop blaming the strong job market and improve its product so that people want to buy it. That means addressing things like pay, benefits, and housing.
High Competition In The Job Market
The US military relies on an all-volunteer force to carry out its missions and defend strategic interests, but a tight job market means recruiters face stiff competition. While inflammatory headlines are easy clickbait, military scholars and advocates say the services can tackle recruiting headwinds by improving compensation, living conditions, and career opportunities for active-duty service members.
Some of this can be accomplished by reexamining compensation, particularly pay in high-demand fields like cyber, and adding enlistment bonuses and student loan repayment. The military can also look at adding desirability-based incentives for duty station assignments. And it should reexamine rules that disqualify applicants for medical conditions like childhood asthma and ADHD medication use that are stable and under control, Belinsky says. These issues are intertwined and require bold changes, but they are still waiting for a quick fix.
Lack Of Eligibility
Many experts point to a multitude of reasons for today’s military recruiting crisis: low unemployment, the roaring civilian job market, kids these days being too fat and lazy to cut it in the military, the “woke” diversity training, etc. But multiple recruiters told Military Times that Genesis — the system for managing service members’ medical records — is the top reason for the gap between actual and planned enlistment numbers.
The problem is that thanks to the system, some would-be recruits get disqualified for things like visible tattoos or criminal records, even though those issues are rarely a factor in military service and can be addressed through a waiver process. Others are turned away for things that the benefits can’t control, such as a previous diagnosis of autism or ADHD medication.
Declining Propensity To Serve
Many people need help to serve, which makes it harder for the services to meet their goals. Various issues contribute to this, including concerns about military lifestyle, the possibility that serving will interfere with their college education and mental health concerns—the latter often tied to the pandemic.
Add in political considerations like a vaccination mandate and the left’s criticism of “wokeness,” as well as concerns about sexual assault, and it becomes clear that the services need to take a fresh look at how they promote military service. They must also rethink how they disqualify applicants, such as for minor past drug use. The complex and intertwined causes of the recruiting crisis defy quick fixes. Still, the services can find new ways to make the military more appealing without undermining its strength or professionalism.
Low Public Perception Of The Military
According to a new Gallup poll, American confidence in the military has hit a 26-year low. This is part of a wider decline in Americans’ confidence in many institutions, including the media, the government, and religious institutions.
Davis says he gets questions from potential recruits about military life, such as whether it’s possible to have a family while serving and how long you are paid after basic training. He believes the lack of understanding about military service is a factor in declining recruitment.
A survey by the Ronald Reagan Institute found that while more Republicans than Democrats report a low confidence in the military, both groups point to politicization as a contributing factor. Americans must find a way to re-ignite their enthusiasm for military service, starting with raising awareness.