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OPINION

New Congress Must Fix Military Recruitment

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Dulles, Virginia – The Constitution gives Congress the power to “raise and support Armies,” and if voters hand Republicans a majority on November 8, exercising this authority must be among the new Congress’ highest priorities. America’s military is experiencing its worst recruiting environment in two generations, and help is needed because the man at the top of the Pentagon is silent and unengaged on the matter.

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With creative counts and selective focus, the military public relations machine has tried to mask the problem, but its scope is too broad to conceal. When fiscal year 2022 ended on September 30, the Army said it fell 15,000 recruits short of its target. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story. 

The Army began the year with an end strength goal of 485,000 soldiers. Several months into FY 2022 they arbitrarily reduced their goal to 476,000 and finished the year at roughly 465,000. In sum, recruiting was off 25 percent, forcing Army Secretary Christine Wormuth to confess it was “the Army’s most challenging recruiting year since the start of the all-volunteer force.” Going forward, the problems will continue as the Army estimates it will finish FY 2023 with an end strength as low as 445,000.  

But it gets even worse because current national defense requirements are significant. More than 100,000 U.S. troops are in Europe to intervene in the Russia-Ukraine war if ordered. Joe Biden has vowed the U.S. will defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, and Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan are all potential conflicts. In March 2021, even before these hotspots fully presented themselves, Army chief of staff General James McConville said the Army should have an end strength of up to 550,000. In other words, the Army is 100,000 troops short of McConville’s comfort zone.   

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With personnel shortages of this magnitude, Secretary Wormuth says the Army is “facing a fundamental question. Do we lower standards to meet end strength, or do we lower end strength to maintain a quality, professional force?” Congress must reject this Hobson’s choice and force the Pentagon to correct the mistakes that led to this problem. 

It should also be noted that recruiting problems are not limited to the Army – they exist, to lesser degrees, across each of the services. 

For example, the Navy failed to attract enough new officers to meet its goal in both the active duty (8.3 percent short) and Reserve components (28 percent short). The Navy Reserve missed its mark for enlisted personnel by 26 percent.   

The Marine Corps met its enlistment target by only eight recruits, and only after reducing its target mid-year. The Air Force met certain goals, but only by pulling recruits from their delayed entry programs, a decision that puts them behind the curve going into fiscal year 2023.  

Despite the pervasive nature of this crisis, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has offered no explanation for the historic rejection of military service by America’s youth, and he has provided no guidance for fixing the problem. The services are failing to recruit in part because their leader is failing to lead.

In fact, Secretary Austin is partly responsible for creating the problems his recruiters are facing. On February 5, 2021, Austin issued a memo on “Extremism in the Ranks,” which said the military was suffering from widespread “corrosive behaviors” of “discrimination, hate, and harassment.” He ordered a department-wide “stand-down” to “eliminate the corrosive effects that extremist ideology and conduct have on the workforce.” 

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It was an ill-advised and indiscriminate barrage of accusation toward those within the ranks. Months later, despite Austin’s hysteria, an investigation found “fewer than 100” instances of extremist activity among a Department of Defense workforce of more than 2.2 million. But the damage was already done. Austin took an institution known for honor and excellence and self-branded it as a hate group. Unsurprisingly, would-be recruits are turning away in droves.  

For this, Austin should publicly apologize and correct the record. If he fails to atone for smearing honorable people within the ranks, Congress should censure the Secretary.  

It’s not the only blunder Austin has made. In December 2021, the Secretary ordered each service member – active duty and National Guard – to get a Covid vaccine or face harsh punishments to include loss of pay, denial of training, or discharge from military service. Thousands of troops have requested exemptions for religious reasons but have been routinely denied. As of July, at least 6,400 service members have been kicked out of the military. 

Joe Biden said the pandemic is over, and courts have ruled against the Pentagon’s enforcement of the mandate, but no matter. Secretary Austin refuses to lift the mandate despite its disastrous impact on recruiting and retention. A new Congress should legislatively lift the mandate and reinstate all servicemembers who were discharged because of it.  

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Military leaders have a host of excuses for the recruiting failure, but the real problem is that this administration has turned America’s armed forces into an unappealing institution. The military brand is damaged and needs to be repaired. Congress must come to the rescue. 

Tom Kilgannon is the President of Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides support to America’s military families and advocates for a strong national defense. @TomKilgannon3 on Twitter.


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