(NewsNation) — The National Guard is a vital part of American security, but there’s concern that there won’t be enough members to call to duty as soldiers are leaving at a faster rate than they’re enlisting.
The Army National Guard and Air National Guard failed to meet their recruitment goals for the total number of service members in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 1, according to Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau. The Army Guard’s authorized total is 336,000, and the Air Guard is 108,300.
For individual states, which rely on their Guard members for a wide range of missions, it means some are falling short of their troop totals this year, while others may fare better. But the losses comes as many are facing an active hurricane season, fires in the West and continued demand for units overseas, including combat tours in Syria and training missions in Europe for nations worried about threats from Russia.
According to officials, the number of soldiers retiring or leaving the Guard each month in the past year has exceeded those coming in, for a total annual loss of about 7,500 service members. The problem is a combination of recruiting shortfalls and an increase in the number of soldiers who are opting not to reenlist when their tour is up.
The Army Guard is short about 6,000 soldiers — about 10% declined to reenlist. The Air Guard is short about 3,000 guardsmen — nearly 3%
On the active duty side, the Army is about 25% below its goal, short 15,000 soldiers.
Guard leaders fear things could get worse as the service stands to lose nearly 14,000 more troops over COVID-19 vaccination policies.
The reasons are many. But Guard officials suggest that young people may not be hearing the strong call to service that they did when the U.S. was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In 2020 and 2021, Guard members were heavily involved in a range of domestic emergencies, from natural disasters and civil unrest to the pandemic, including medical care, COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
While the shortfalls for 2022 may be small percentages, the Guard is facing increasing losses over the next year due to the U.S. military’s requirement that all troops get the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, about 9,000 Guard members are refusing to get the shot, and another 5,000 have sought religious, medical or administrative exemptions.
So far, no Guard members have been discharged for refusing the vaccine order. The National Guard is awaiting final instructions from the Army on how to proceed. Officials have said it’s not clear when they will get that guidance.
With more losses likely on the horizon, Guard leaders are looking for ways to entice service members to join or reenlist.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.