Updated: Jul 14, 2022
What started as a personnel shortage may be turning into a full-blown national security crisis for America.
The Pentagon has struggled all year to recruit enough service members, a problem initially seen as a lingering effect of COVID-19. The inability to recruit at high schools seen a factor that was hurting U.S. Army recruiting in particular, along with a hot job market that might tempt some away from military service.
But recent reports indicate the problem is broader than that. In May, NBC reported that fewer young Americans are fit to serve – either mentally or physically – and that fewer have an interest in serving. An internal Pentagon document obtained by NBC said only 9 percent of Americans eligible to serve have any interest in doing so, a 15-year low.
Those factors mean potential long-term trouble for the Navy, Army and other service branches. The Army, for example, has reportedly met just 40 percent of its recruiting goal for the fiscal year that ends in three months.
The Navy is expected to meet its goal, but only by shrinking the number of candidates it usually accepts for deferred entry. The Military Times reported that this could hurt the Navy’s capabilities in future years, as it is delaying the impact of today’s recruiting problems.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, now director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, said this week that this problem could be a severe one for the Navy, which is already suffering from a lack of training that continues to lead to training accidents.
“The Navy doesn’t talk about it much, but they have a real challenge manning the ships that they need to put out to sea, and people are getting back-to-back sea tours,” Spoehr told the National Review. He said that could lead to a “death spiral” that prompts more service members to retire.
Many conservatives also say something deeper is at work that’s keeping recruiting levels low over the last few years – the intrusion of social policies at the Pentagon. Priorities such as purging alleged white extremists from the ranks, promoting “diversity, equity and inclusion” and worrying about the proper use of pronouns has created a political wind that some say is making conservative Americans look elsewhere.
Chuck DeVore, a veteran and former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, said he wouldn’t enlist today.
“Under today’s leadership, I wouldn’t enlist. Why volunteer for leftist struggle sessions at reeducation camp?” he wrote for Fox News.
“[T]he message is very clear if you’re a patriotic young American: Stay clear of the military. After all, why put yourself under the command of people who, at best, are suspicious of you and at worst will demand you attend pronoun reeducation camp — after they force you to take a vaccine for a virus that has little chance of harming you as a young, healthy adult.”
Regardless of what precise factors are in play, it all adds up to a less-capable military force that many think will find it harder to counter and deter countries like Russia and China.
“I’m worried we’re now in the early days of a long-term threat to the all-volunteer force, with a small and declining number of Americans who are eligible and interested in military service,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said in April. “Every single metric tracking the military recruiting environment is going in the wrong direction.”
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