Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen headlines talking about the plummeting rates of our military recruitment. Even The Nation called it a crisis as America’s active duty and reserve personnel numbers continued to thin out. So, with all these, should we start thinking about hiring foreigners to fight for our freedom?
According to Arshan Barzani, an officer in the Army Reserve and student at Yale Law School, it is possible to explore this option. However, the current status of army recruitment has been at its worst since 1973. Multiple factors can be attributed to this decline, including more promising opportunities in the private sector. Moreover, aside from the higher pay, work-life balance, and of course, lesser risk of being called into battle, there are also other reasons why Americans can’t join the military, including criminal records, poor health, and drug use.
According to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, this is becoming an extremely serious matter. As a result, the DoD is reportedly meeting with officials and other world leaders to discuss possible solutions to the issue.
“This is the start of a long drought for military recruiting,” said Ret. Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank.
As the pool of those eligible to join the military shrinks, younger men and women are opting for more secure jobs as they redefine what it means to try to reach the “American dream.”
Another survey found that only 9% of young Americans eligible to join are willing to enlist in the military. This number is the lowest since 2007. This figure shows us how the public, especially the younger generation, is not exposed to the military culture anymore. With a good deal of content on social media showcasing lavish lifestyles and dance crazes, fewer and fewer pieces of content get to really explore the value of serving the motherland.
Many are also citing the previous stories from veterans who had experienced PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, and suicide. With these cases, many are becoming more and more cautious about the aftermath of joining the service.
“They think they’re going to be physically or emotionally broken after serving,” said one senior US military official familiar with the recruiting issues, who believes a lack of familiarity with military service contributes to that perception.
Another factor hurting recruitment numbers is the push for middle-class parents and societal norms to encourage kids to go to college before selecting a career. Yet, in the military, these years present opportune timing for physical, mental, and skills training.
“Changing the mind of parents is the really tough part, particularly if these are parents who worked really hard for their children to go to college,” said Kate Kuzminski from the Center for a New American Security. She also said that this is why the military’s shifting to winning “hearts and minds” and further educating the younger generation on the breadth of experience military service could offer.
But, with tensions around the globe, it could take years for the military to start improving these numbers. So, what is our fix?
“No self-respecting country should rely entirely on foreign troops,” Barzani notes.
Though that is true, it is helpful to enlist some foreign soldiers to quickly fill the ranks with the much-needed personnel. Even the British Army used the Fijians and the Gurkhas to increase their numbers. From 1900 to 1992, the US Navy enlisted tens and thousands of Filipinos to join their crews. Military programs were offered as a way for Filipinos to fight poverty.
Opening more programs in the Asia Pacific could also help the US military to create strategic forces to compete with China. Last month, a US presidential initiative pushed for boosting American troops recruitment in the South Pacific to counter China’s growing military influence in the region. Though China announced that they were “happy” about the recruitment, they tried to caution America in doing so.
“We are happy to see Pacific island countries receive more support for its development and vitalization from countries willing to do so,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a scheduled news briefing in Beijing. “This has always been China’s position. At the same time, we believe that all countries, when pursuing cooperation with Pacific island countries should … not target any third party or harm their interests.”
The US will continue to restructure the US Peach Corps in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
And as for local recruitment, there are no easy fixes.
“There are few easy fixes to the recruiting crisis. Reducing obesity takes time. Lowering standards hurts discipline and performance. Bonuses are not cheap. By contrast, enlisting allied citizens is a win-win solution. Given a chance to address a serious recruiting crisis while strengthening alliances, the Pentagon should take it,” Barzini added.