This column is co-authored by the Honorable Robert Wilkie and Mike Berry.
According to longstanding doctrine, a military unit is considered “combat ineffective” when it loses roughly 30% of its end strength. Following recent reports that the Pentagon missed its recruiting goals—in the Army’s case, by as much as 25%—America’s military is teetering on the brink of being combat ineffective. Put simply, our armed forces are now at risk of being unable to defend the nation if called upon.
These are America’s worst recruiting numbers since President Nixon and General Creighton Abrams conceived the all-volunteer force in 1973. And the Biden Administration’s contention that recruiting numbers are down because of a strong economy is nonsense—recruiting soared during the Reagan and Bush years when the economy boomed.
The bottom line is that parents—even those who are themselves veterans—are no longer sending their children to the military in the aftermath of Biden’s Afghanistan disaster and his failed social policies. They refuse to support a President and a Pentagon who insist on dividing the ranks by force-feeding grievance politics to those in uniform.
The issue is quickly becoming a national security dilemma. But the crisis we presently face is not the result of an attack by a foreign adversary. No, our wounds are self-inflicted, and worse, they are entirely avoidable. Our military bought in to the same “woke” ideology that now plagues America’s college campuses.
Lawmakers continue to press Pentagon officials to explain our military’s recruiting woes. The Pentagon, of course, does little more than to obfuscate and prevaricate. Perhaps our generals and admirals don’t actually know why young Americans are less interested in military service than in previous years. Or perhaps they know precisely why, but they are unwilling to confront the uncomfortable truth that they have led what was once one of America’s most admired and revered institutions astray.
The military no longer presents an attractive option for young people. An eighteen-year-old today was born in 2004. They were not alive to witness the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the incredible sense of duty, honor, and patriotism that those attacks birthed.
Instead, today’s youths are bombarded by the damaging and derogatory rhetoric the Department of Defense (DoD) itself espouses regarding our nation and its history. In one example, official DoD training materials teach that “the colonists who sought to free themselves from British rule” is an example of extremist ideology. Most recently, the self-described “woke” Pentagon equity chief praised a book that referred to September 11 first responders as “menaces of nature” and that “they were not human.”
Instead of learning that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, our children are being indoctrinated with anti-American propaganda from K-12. Is it any surprise then that a high school graduate would reject serving and defending a nation and a military they’ve been taught is flawed, racist, and evil?
Indeed, a recent poll revealed the shocking fact that a majority of self-identified Democrats would refuse to defend America and would retreat if invaded. In less than a generation, we’ve gone from Americans locking arms and fighting evil together, to Americans abandoning ship and fleeing in fear.
The good news is that we can heal those wounds by restoring unity and pride in our nation and its ideals.
If our nation’s leaders would simply acknowledge that the Pentagon’s full-throated embrace of “wokeism” is a major cause of our recruiting and retention crisis, we can then begin to identify and implement solutions.
The most immediate and obvious solution, of course, is to stop the bleeding and reject the woke ideology that only serves to weaken our military. In its place, the Pentagon should initiate and implement a campaign of recognizing, celebrating, and promoting the very things that have historically driven young Americans to join the military. Americans have shown throughout history that we are willing to fight, and even die, for something we believe is worth defending.
We must likewise reject the false, misguided trope that America was founded by evil white men. The truth is that America was founded by persecuted peoples who sought a place where religious freedom can flourish. To that end, the pro-America think tank, America First Policy Institute (AFPI), created the Center for 1776, whose vision is to “disseminate the truth about the American founding into our Nation’s schools and homes to restore national unity and pride through a renewed understanding of our founding.”
At the risk of over-simplifying, more “Top Gun: Maverick,” less critical race theory.
Another practical step is for the Pentagon to recognize its core target audience for recruiting. According to at least one study, Americans who identify as “highly religious” are significantly more likely to join the military than their “non-religious” counterparts. Given that reality, one would think the Pentagon brass would ensure the military is a faith-friendly environment. Instead, we find just the opposite as incidents of religious hostility within the military are now commonplace. In fact, multiple federal courts have ruled that the military is violating service members’ religious freedom in how it has implemented the much-maligned Covid-19 vaccine mandate. Worse, many believe the vaccine mandate is actually part of an ideological purge to rid the armed forces of religiously-motivated troops.
The United States military stands at a perilous crossroads, and it must decide what matters more: pleasing the woke commissars or defending this nation and its people. It is now evident that we cannot do both. In the words of former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, the military “is just another institution that [the Biden Administration] has every intention of tearing down.” For this reason, we must put an end to the woke ideology and revitalize the patriotism and commitment to service that have been, and always will be, the vital cornerstones of our armed services.
The Honorable Robert Wilkie served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He is a Distinguished Fellow at America First Policy Institute’s Center for American Security.
Mike Berry is Vice President of External Affairs and Director of Military Affairs at First Liberty Institute, and is a former active-duty U.S. Marine Corps officer.