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Military face a recruiting crisis that threatens its ability to compete against other great powers

Stavridis, 7-24, 23, James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. A retired U.S. Navy admiral, former supreme allied commander of NATO and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, he is vice chairman of global affairs at the Carlyle Group, Japan Times, U.S. military’s recruiting woes are a national-security crisis

America’s armed services are failing to meet their recruiting goals, with the Army in particular suffering the worst shortfalls in five decades. There are many reasons behind this, but one is very surprising: veterans themselves. Recent reporting and anecdotal evidence indicate the likelihood that children of service members will sign up, or be urged to do so by their families, is at a nadir. Given that 80% of new recruits have a relative who served in uniform, there is no understating the crisis. When I came out of high school in 1972, the draft had just ended and America was embarking on a great experiment: an all-volunteer force. As someone who grew up in the military (my father was a career infantry officer in the Marines, retiring as a colonel in 1970 after distinguished combat in Korea and Vietnam), following the family trade was a foregone conclusion. But as I entered the Naval Academy on a hot summer’s day half a century ago, it was entirely unclear if the volunteer force would succeed. After a bumpy post-draft period, the military was rejuvenated under President Ronald Reagan in early 1980s, becoming the highly successful force that fought the nation’s battles from Panama to the Persian Gulf. Yet the foundations of that all-volunteer military feel shakier than they have for decades. What can the Pentagon do about it? The first step is to understand why recruiting is down. The biggest factor is probably today’s very strong civilian job market. In so many ways, life is “compared to what?” If someone can make a starter wage of $20-plus an hour, perhaps with a decent health care plan and a 401K, it is simply much harder to convince them to shave their head, report to a steaming Parris Island boot camp, meet rigorous physical standards, get up before dawn every day and prepare for long separations from their friends and family, often in risky conditions. Another factor, counterintuitively to many, is the withdrawal of the U.S. from large-scale, active war. Some young people have always been drawn to what they see as the enormous life-test of combat, as well as the adventure of deploying to distant lands. The dispiriting images of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 shattered that image for many. Additionally, the bar to get into the military is high. Only 25% of the nation’s youth can meet the standards: a high school diploma or equivalent; reasonably high standardized test scores; physical fitness; no drug use or arrest record; mental stability. The Pentagon is competing with universities and the private sector for a small segment of each year’s high-school graduates. It didn’t help that recruiters were unable to go onto campuses for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the right-wing media hypes and decries the supposedly “woke” activities of the armed forces. Many critics on the left characterized the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as imperialistic misadventures. Neither of those narratives is accurate, but they have a discouraging effect on recruiting. Finally, the growing sense of political division across the nation is diminishing the young person’s faith in America. This may be the most disturbing factor of all and the one that ultimately defeats the all-volunteer force. The respect for the military overall, still atop the list of the country’s institutions, has been dropping sharply. Fewer than half of Americans now say they “trust” the armed forces, down from 70% just five years ago. The Pentagon needs to reverse these trends or there will be grave risk to national security in an era of great-power competition. Fortunately, planning and executing complex campaigns is something the Department of Defense is very good at.

Other ways the Pentagon can recruit

Stavridis, 7-24, 23, James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. A retired U.S. Navy admiral, former supreme allied commander of NATO and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, he is vice chairman of global affairs at the Carlyle Group, Japan Times, U.S. military’s recruiting woes are a national-security crisis

Fortunately, planning and executing complex campaigns is something the Department of Defense is very good at. First, just as any good company knows when it needs to focus on marketing and advertising in the face of falling market share, the military must send its brightest and most impressive personnel to lead recruiting efforts; provide additional resources to generate leads (artificial intelligence can perhaps help); re-tailor marketing campaigns to appeal directly to the most promising and untapped communities; assign inspirational two-star generals and admirals to lead the services’ recruiting commands; and provide incentives for success — give the most successful recruiters the choice of their next assignment, for example. As for quality-of-life criticisms: Barracks need to be spotless and well run; food in the chow halls must be plentiful and reflective of new trends and appetites; medical treatment has to be first-rate; and pay/benefit packages must more than keep pace with inflation. (Fortunately, Congress just approved a 5% pay raise, the biggest in two decades). The Pentagon could also broaden the recruiting base in innovative ways. During my career, many of the best sailors I encountered were from the Philippines who had been convinced to join the Navy as a path to citizenship. There were strong historical reasons for that program — including the pre-World War II colonial relationship, not America’s finest hour. It’s time to think about a broader program along those lines, perhaps looking to Central and South America. Above all, we as a nation we need to do more to encourage the idea of service. A pledge to honor the Constitution rises above the rancor and bitter divisions in the country — something America’s veterans know but seem to be less willing or able to instill in their children. On this Independence Day especially, we need to thank our troops for their sacrifice, sincerely and continuously. America’s security in a dangerous world depends on it.

All branches will miss their recruiting targets

Schultz, 7-22, 23, YLE SCHULZ is a J.D. candidate at Chapman Fowler School of Law, president of the Chapman Law Federalist Society, and fellow at the Chapman Military and Veterans Law Institute.,

In no uncertain terms, the U.S. military faces a serious recruiting predicament. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, 2022 marked the most difficult year for the U.S. Army since the inception of the all-volunteer force in 1973, with the branch falling a shocking 25 percent short of its recruitment target. Looking ahead to 2023, the Army expects to miss its target of 65,000 recruits by 15,000. Similarly, the Navy expects to be up to 10,000 short of its recruiting goal of approximately 38,000. This recruiting decline is very troubling. And there is more going on than momentary trends. The Journal also observes, for example, that the allure of military service among young people aged 16–21 has dropped from 13 percent to a mere 9 percent in the aftermath of the pandemic, a statistic with worrying long-term implications. And while the U.S. military faces recruitment woes, China continues to steadily enhance its military capabilities Despite military leadership’s acknowledging and attempting to rectify this issue, it only appears to be getting worse. My own experience, while only anecdotal, speaks to why. As a former Army noncommissioned officer (NCO), I made the decision not to re-up my service contract and have fully transitioned into civilian life. Why? Because the Army no longer feels like the institution I believed it to be when I enlisted. I used to always think of the Army as an institution that only bled red, white, and blue. An institution that was ready to annihilate the enemy at a moment’s notice. An institution that represented some of the best aspects of America. Every second the Army spends on DEI training is a second that could have been spent bettering combat readiness. Every time the Army lowers the physical-fitness standards, it gives soldiers a reason not to better themselves and “be all they can be.” If there is one place the bar should not be lowered, it is our nation’s defense. Perhaps if the military was more selective, more people would want to join. Instead, it is an institution leaking emails to Mali and intelligence documents on Discord and 4chan. The military needs to put an emphasis on recruiting this country’s best, because right now, our military is not showing the world our nation’s best. Despite my recent departure from military service, my close interactions with new recruits and fresh perspective have led me to identify potential solutions to the problems that are hurting military recruitment. And though the Army, and the military as a whole, are not what I once held them to be, I present these because I still care deeply for our armed forces, and because it is of utmost importance that this country has the best possible warfighting apparatus.

Alternative ways to increase recruiting

Schultz, 7-22, 23, YLE SCHULZ is a J.D. candidate at Chapman Fowler School of Law, president of the Chapman Law Federalist Society, and fellow at the Chapman Military and Veterans Law Institute.,

We can start by prioritizing the legitimate grievances of military families. To enhance the appeal of military service, we must address the deep-rooted deterrents that dissuade potential recruits. Corrective steps include raising the pay of lower ranks, improving housing standards, and actively combatting mental-health issues. By creating better service conditions, we can offer recruits more than just a job — we can provide them with a fulfilling and esteemed career. Allocating the military budget towards these improvements would be more effective and appealing than the current divisive advertising campaigns. Instead of recruitment ads featuring LGBTQ pride marches, the military should focus on the Army marching on the greatest evils the world has ever known. It is also crucial to debunk the notion that the military is a mere substitute for higher education. The military offers abundant opportunities for academic and skills development that are often overlooked in recruitment. Emphasizing these avenues for personal growth will help draw a wider range of recruits. Another area to address is how the surge of social-media and influencer culture has dealt a blow to recruitment efforts. The lack of military endorsements from influential figures is concerning. Platforms such as China-owned TikTok, moreover, are likely even hindering American military advocacy. The military should invest in targeted ads on platforms like Instagram that do not divisively single out small portions of the population but that represent something everyone in this country shares in: the greatness of America and what those in the military can do to preserve this greatness. Patriotism is at a low right now, which is all the more reason to feature ads about this nation’s triumphs. In the news, we constantly see elderly and overweight individuals in a military uniform; this is the representation that the masses see. Perhaps having younger- and healthier-appearing soldiers that look like someone you would trust in a fox hole with you in a combat zone and would be a better choice to represent our military when the nation tunes in to their television. The military itself must be responsible for how it appears to outsiders and recruits. So it must uphold its legacy, which remains one of the strongest recruiting draws. To do this successfully will require an admission: The current recruitment strategy’s ideological shifts have missed the mark. While progressive campaigns targeting niche demographics may be well intentioned, they fail to resonate with the majority of potential recruits. Historically, enlistment has stemmed from Middle America, the heartland, and the South — regions where tradition, honor, and patriotic duty hold significant value. To such people, military service goes beyond employment. It is a pledge to protect the nation. Today, I see soldiers who feel embarrassed and even ashamed when people thank them for their service. This is because they have no idea what their service means to this country or even how great the institution they are a part of can be. Soldiers get a brief introduction to how the Army was formed and are taught to remember the Army’s birthday in basic-combat training. When you get sent to a unit, you also get a brief history on that unit’s triumphs. But the Army as a whole has done so much more and can continue to do more. The Army used to sing cadences about destroying Commies, yet now that is not considered socially acceptable in an institution designed to destroy threats to America. This is a change for the worse. The older generations who thank soldiers for their service remember what the military used to be. They see in these young recruits their father who stormed the beaches of Normandy, their brother who gave everything in Vietnam, and even their son or daughter who fought freedom-hating terrorists. Instead of portraying the military as a bastion of ideological progressivism for recruitment, we should reignite interest by emphasizing its historical achievements and the valor of service members. This approach will invigorate passion for military service among the people who have traditionally embraced it and will appeal to far more people than the current recruiting campaigns. This does not mean military culture must regress. Rather, it must refocus on the primary objective: securing victory and defending our nation. The military should not be seen as just another government job or a safe ideological space but as a unified force with a shared mission. An institution that has consistently shone light during the world’s darkest hours, for those scared in the dark. Its focal points should be unity and preparedness, not progressive agendas that risk overshadowing our fundamental objective and inadvertently isolating niche groups. Military DEI initiatives seek to transplant the logic of identity politics, which would raise some favored groups and lower others, into the military space. Nothing could be worse for the unifying ethic that holds our armed forces together. In the words of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, “Here you are all equally worthless.” Those serving our nation are obviously not worthless. But the relevant essence of Hartman’s remark is that being a part of this institution makes you equal to the person you stand in formation with. Special sensitivity trainings for various demographics create more problems than they fix. Yet the Army is constantly creating memoranda and sessions on what to do with, say, soldiers who have gender dysphoria. These trainings are usually a death by PowerPoint, ending with a YouTube video that will likely have sound issues. And they’re unnecessary: If the military feels that soldiers with gender dysphoria are fit to enlist, that means those soldiers should be treated no differently from anyone else serving. Having over a million troops devote even an hour of precious time to such trainings is essentially wasting over a million hours’ worth of battle-readiness training. During my service, I saw more DEI posters than posters or pamphlets devoted to battle readiness. This must change. Revitalizing the military’s image will not be easy. But the payoff will be worth it. We can help ensure that the U.S. military remains a formidable, resilient, and diverse force that reflects the strength of our nation. By reshaping the narrative surrounding military service, honoring its legacy, and targeting our outreach towards everyone, not just niche groups, and by not alienating the people who have traditionally formed the military’s backbone, we can revive recruitment efforts. And we can prepare a future where our defense force represents unity rather than a battleground for ideological disputes.