The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan marked the end of a war that involved some 800,000 American service members.
Defending against new threats will require the US to replenish its all-volunteer force with new recruits – a task made difficult by the dwindling number of Americans willing and able to serve.
There are currently 1.3 million active-duty service members in the US. Due to job losses and retirements, the military needs to find more than 150,000 new recruits each year to meet its overall “ultimate strength” goal. In 2020, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all hit their annual recruiting targets – but those figures were distorted by a historically weak job market, as active-duty service members re-enter the civilian sector. Delayed planning to do so, reducing the need. for new hire. For example, last year’s target of 61,200 new army recruits was 20% lower than in 2018, when the army failed to meet its target.
Recruitment is not easy. At least 70% of Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible for military service because of obesity, mental-health issues, past drug use, criminal record, or lack of a high school degree. Overall, only 13% of young adults express a positive propensity to serve, with women almost half as likely than men to consider enlisting. The Defense Department estimates that only 2% of the 20.6 million 17- to 21-year-olds have the desired combination of strong academic credentials, adequate physical fitness, and an interest in serving.
This limited supply compromises national security. In recent years, the military has barely met the Pentagon’s minimum cognitive-aptitude benchmark for new personnel. In addition, recruits are drawn from a shrinking segment of the population—mostly from southern states—and a small number of veterans’ families, a group whose share of the population is lower than at any time since World War II. The armed forces enjoy public support, but this skew of the recruitment pool risks widening the divide between service members and the civilians they have sworn to protect.
America needs to persuade a wider cross section of Americans to consider military service. More generous recruitment bonuses should be offered to candidates who are qualified for key positions and willing to sign up for six-year contracts. Services should extend beyond recent high-school graduates to community-college and techno-college students, who are more likely to have specialized skills and score higher on aptitude tests. More recruiters should be deployed in communities with low military involvement, and those who bring in high-performing recruits should be rewarded. In order to attract people from non-traditional backgrounds, a substantial portion of the Pentagon’s $500 million advertising budget must be spent on social-media campaigns that emphasize the career benefits of joining the military, as are the benefits of joining the military. A new YouTube series is aimed at.
Recruitment should not be promoted at the cost of military rigor. For example, it would be a mistake to relax recruitment standards by opening up force to people with truancy or a history of drug use.
The effort is important not only to preserve American power, but also to the strength of America’s democracy.