As global threats like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea loom large, the US Army anticipates difficulties filling its ranks. Is the be-all-you-can-be Army losing its draw due to the emphasis on diversity over merit? The knee-jerk explanation for recruiters not hitting their accession goals is that forces in the labor market capture potential young candidates that might otherwise enlist in the military and specifically the Army. Should we be worried?
“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,” retired Army Lieutenant General Thomas Spoehr of the Heritage Foundation recently stated. When reasonably high-paying entry-level jobs are plentiful, spending time as a soldier is less appealing. Private-sector job availability is a pacing factor in persuading young people to join the military. However, there may be other reasons for the Army’s failure to meet recruiting goals.
Army leadership did expect a lower rate of entrants into the enlisted ranks. “We did not want to lower our standards in FY ’23 to address any gaps in our recruiting projections. So, we proactively made a decision to temporarily reduce our end strength from 485,000 Soldiers to 476,000 in FY ’22 and 473,000 in FY ’23. And I would just want to emphasize that this is not a budget-driven decision,” Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo told the Pentagon press corps on March 28. Camarillo also emphasized that the Army has not lowered its recruiting standards. However, two aspects of paying for military personnel are important to remember.
First, a budgeting rule of thumb — not hard and fast, but one to consider — is that the Defense Department populates Navy ships, naval aircraft and Air Force fighters, bombers, airlift airplanes, and missile silos. Funding for Navy and Air Force personnel is driven by the number of ships and aircraft. Consequently, if the Defense Department needs to reduce overall costs for the Air Force and Navy, it decreases the number of naval vessels, planes, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. All the aircrews, sailors, missile crews, maintenance, and support personnel will decline proportionally with the associated funding. On the other hand, the Defense Department equips the ground forces, Army and Marine Corps. If the Army or Marines needs to cut the budget, it reduces the number of personnel, and the equipment procurement budget will fall correspondingly. Again, generally, a good way to view military funding.
Second, despite Camarillo’s comments to the contrary, it is about the money. It is always about the money. The Army reduced its total end strength, including Army National Guard and Reserves, by roughly 12,000 soldiers. So the Department of the Army reduced its FY2023 procurement for equipment, weapons, and ammunition request by $1.5 billion from the enacted FY2021 appropriation.
Before the President’s Defense Budget Request is sent to Congress, there are two years of preparation by the military services. The Army knew there would be a drop in recruiting for the FY2023 budget, at least during the FY2021 budget build; before the word became public, it was known recruiting objectives would not be met. And though the Army, according to Camarillo, “did not want to lower our standards in FY’23 to address any gaps in recruiting projections,” the reduced requirement of 12,000 troops is convenient. Looking at other possible reasons for the low recruiting numbers, a factor could be a desire to change the cultural demographics within the military. With the added emphasis on diversity — the targeted ethnic-, gender-, and LGBT-diverse population sought — combined with the chilling effect of the publicized intense hunt within the ranks for white supremacists, recruiting numbers were depressed.
In the case of the department’s search for people with extreme views, the all-hands-on-deck investigation for military service members who hold unauthorized views didn’t turn up much. “Department of Defense has determined the number of substantiated matters of members of the military who are subject to official action due to engagement in prohibited extremist activity are fewer than 100 over the past year,” the much-touted Report on Countering Extremist Activity Within the Department of Defense concluded. Ferreting out those 100 has consumed a significant portion of pundits and media conversation, but of the 2.1 million active-duty and reserve military, 100 represents roughly 0.05%. This diversion of national security attention for so trivial a result is not lost on some who might be considering Army service.
There is little doubt that when good jobs are plentiful, patriotism and desire to serve may not be as persuasive as they might be otherwise. But the direction the Department of Defense culture has taken recently might also be a factor. So, when looking at recruiting the best for our nation’s fine military, keeping the attention on the threat is worth consideration.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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