(NewsNation) — Military leaders are making recruiting a top priority to try and combat a shortfall that’s in the tens of thousands. It’s a major effort to maintain a defense that has for centuries been declared the very best in the world.
As Americans celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, the country remembers fallen heroes, the men and women who gave their lives for this country.
But this holiday, the armed forces are facing a troubling reality.
The crisis is blatantly apparent in recruiting centers around the country. Despite offering lucrative signing bonuses of up to $100,000 and tuition reimbursement opportunities for service members, spouses and children, the military is struggling to attract new recruits.
Army Lt. Col Johann Hindert said, “Recruiting is an uphill battle all across the country right now.”
Over the past few years the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have struggled to meet their recruiting goals.
In 2022, the Army was 15,000 people short, a full 25% short of its target. This year, the Army predicts a 10,000 soldier shortfall.
Likewise, the Navy wants to bring aboard 50,000 active-duty and reserve recruits this year. But Navy Commander David Benham projects that benchmark will likely be missed by about 6,000 sailors.
High-ranking members of the U.S. military have had to admit their shortcomings to congressional leaders.
In April, Gen. Randy A. George, vice chief of staff of the Army, told Congress they are challenged by a lack of interest and eligibility from younger people.
“We are challenged by the fact that a small number of young Americans, 23%, are qualified to serve. Fewer still, we are finding, are interested in serving, and that is something that we are working very hard to change,” he said.
Former Green Beret John Spears fought in Vietnam. To this day, he trains some of the most elite snipers in the world. Spears points to a number of reasons the decline is so significant.
Spears said skyrocketing obesity rates disqualify young Americans who want to join. There are also more opportunities than ever for Gen Z to earn their living in the private sector. There has also been a steady, country-wide shift dissolving the former sense of patriotism Americans once felt.
Young people just don’t feel the risk of dying at war outweighs the benefits of service.
“There is a cultural bias against a young person who makes that decision to join the military, that they’re somehow taking a less desirable pipeline to success,” Spears said. “When the reality is, that young person is overcoming the fear of the unknown, realizing that there’s going to be a significant reward on the other side of that journey.”
To meet their quotas, some branches of the military are making concessions for recruits who could have once been disqualified.
For example, the Navy may offer waivers to those with previous drug use, have a history of mental illness or who scored low on aptitude tests if they believe the candidate could still be molded into a quality sailor.
But the sudden acceptance of people once considered sub-par recruits begs a serious question.
What would happen if the U.S. suddenly found itself in a conflict?
“I’m 100% confident that our military can and would do what it needs to hold the line and win our nation’s wars,” Hindert said.
As America enters its 50th year of an all-volunteer force, military leaders don’t foresee a draft in the future. If international extremism becomes a national threat, be it from Russia, China or any other global superpower, military minds believe young people will show up in droves to fight for their country.
“We have the greatest, smartest, most physically fit, ready soldiers that I have ever seen in my life. We have the highest-grade military members that we have ever had,” Spears said. “Anybody who wants to start the adventure of their life, I say, go for it.”
Recently, in an effort to get more unqualified Americans in, both the Army and Navy have launched prep courses for hopeful soldiers and sailors who don’t meet the physical or intellectual requirements it takes to become a member of the U.S. military.
That way, those young Americans can cut weight and get the grades they need to meet the standards for service.