What if we fielded an Army, and nobody joined?

That’s the 2022 version of the 1966 anti-war slogan, “Suppose they gave a War and Nobody Came,” penned by Charlotte Keys.

Army Enlistment Bonus
Up to $50,000 in bonuses, and we still can’t get recruits? And it’s not just the Army. Let’s have a closer look at this. Image courtesy of the United States Army

Help Wanted

We’ve all seen the “help wanted” signs all over our communities. It’s a sign of the times (literally). According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 11.3 million job openings in the nation. Anyone who really wants to get a job should be able to have one.

A shortage in the fast-food industry is one thing; we may have to wait a few minutes longer for our burgers and fries. A lack of manpower in our armed forces is quite another. It directly impacts our national security and our posture as a global superpower.

Troubled Times

We live in a time of great uncertainty. China is a superpower with enormous military might that has more than a bit too much control over the American supply chain. Russia is at war with Ukraine, and NATO is nervous. Putin seems to be psychologically coming apart at the seams, and he keeps reminding the world that he has a big nuclear button he can push anytime he wants.

This is not a good time to be reporting that it is unlikely the US will meet its modest recruiting goals for any of our armed services. We are about halfway through the fiscal year, and the Army and Navy have both jacked up their recruiting bonuses to a record-high $50,000.

Warning Lights

In a letter verified by Air Force Times, Major General Ed Thomas told Air Force Recruiting Service employees on January 10th, “We have warning lights flashing.”

He also noted in a recent emailed statement:

“Two years into COVID-19 and amidst U.S. labor shortages, our pool of qualified applicants is about half of what it should be at this point in the year.”

The Marine Corps Times reports: “Recruiting challenges have been amplified in a world where young Americans seemingly have more options and are less likely to choose the Marine Corps.”

They go on to state: “The manpower model will move away from one based on processing a large number of unskilled teenagers and young adults into one more capable of identifying and nurturing talent from the experienced civilian population.”

Personally, I would think it would be more difficult to lure a skilled and experienced civilian population into the Corps. I hope I’m wrong about that.

There Are Not as Many Qualified Applicants to Choose From

Just showing up at a recruiting office willing to serve is not enough. Every year, fewer and fewer potential applicants qualify for military service. Obesity, mental health issues, past criminal records, and lack of a high school diploma cut deeply into the pool of potential warfighters. Contrary to elitist smears that claim losers join the military because they can’t get into college or hold a regular job, studies have consistently shown that service members are more likely to have high school diplomas and college degrees and less likely to have criminal records than the general population.

Since we have an all-volunteer force, the military depends on a constant flow of new recruits every year. A 2017 survey conducted by the Pentagon shows that of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24, a full 71% are ineligible to serve in the United States military. The situation isn’t any better today.

In other words, more than 24 million of the 34 million young people in that age group could not join our armed forces, even if they wanted to, which most of them do not.

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Here is the situation we are faced with: Only 29% of our nation’s young adults are qualified to serve. This manpower shortage in our troops directly compromises national security.

Shrinkage

In what some might cite as a candidate for understatement of the year, Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said at a recent press conference: “We’re facing, obviously, some challenging conditions in terms of our ability to recruit and attract talent.” 

Roger that, sir.

He blamed what he called “a very tight labor market” for the shortfall.

Camarillo said the Army’s total number of forces would go from 485,000 soldiers currently to 476,000 in the fiscal year 2022, which ends in September, and further down to 473,000 in the fiscal year 2023.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, called the situation unprecedented. He said:

“The Army has not faced such recruiting headwinds in the last 30 years. I am unaware of a situation where the Army has cut its end strength in response to a negative recruiting outlook.”

The general also attributed the decision to the Biden Administration keeping the Army budget below the rate of inflation.

“If the Biden administration was not holding the Army’s budget below the level of inflation, I am not sure they would have had to resort to cutting their end strength.”

According to Military Times, the reduction would leave the service at its smallest size since 1940, when it had just over 269,000 troops.  This small size can lead to its own retention problems.  A smaller force will result in longer deployments which makes reenlistment less attractive to those serving.