Army Warns Recruiting Efforts Could Take a Hit if Congress Doesn’t Pass Ukraine and Israel Funding

December 4, 2023
U.S. Army Oath of Enlistment

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — If Congress does not approve extra funding to cover the bulked-up U.S. troop presence in Europe and the Middle East, the Army could have to dip into funding meant for recruitment to cover costs of the deployments, a top service official warned this weekend.

Speaking at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday, Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo said efforts to solve the military recruiting crisis are “absolutely … hamstrung” by funding fights in Congress.

“Right now, without the supplemental for Ukraine and for support to Israel, we in the Army in our base budget, we are funding the operations costs to deploy our soldiers to provide that deterrence and reassurance mission in NATO and in CENTCOM,” Camarillo said, referring to U.S. Central Command.

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“That is the same budget account that I need to use in order to place media buys months in advance for marketing and advertising, to surge events for recruiters in other parts of the country,” continued Camarillo, who was speaking during a panel focused on the military’s recent recruiting struggles.

The accounts also are used to pay for recruiting incentives, such as bonuses for targeted skill sets in certain military occupational specialties, he said.

Camarillo also suggested that Congress’ passing of stopgap spending measures that extend last year’s funding level, instead of passing a regular, full-year appropriations bill, hurts recruiting, echoing a letter Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown sent to Congress last week.

Camarillo’s comments on Israel and Ukraine funding come as the Biden administration steps up efforts to persuade Congress to approve roughly $106 billion to support the wars in Ukraine and Israel, as well as for U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region and to bolster security on the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House on Monday also warned that the U.S. is nearly out of money to send Ukraine weapons and that running out would “kneecap” the ability to fight against Russia’s invasion.

At the start of the war in Ukraine in 2022, the U.S. surged tens of thousands of troops to Europe to reassure NATO allies worried about the possibility of the war spilling into their countries. The increased presence is largely unchanged since then.

In its supplemental funding request, the White House asked for about $212 million in personnel funding and about $6.6 billion in operations funding for the service branches to cover costs associated with the deployments. Of that, the Army would get about $184 million in personnel funding and about $4.6 billion in operations funding.

Meanwhile, after Hamas’ October terrorist attack against Israel, the subsequent war in the Gaza Strip and an increase in attacks on American troops in the Middle East suspected to be carried out by Iran-backed militias, the U.S. deployed thousands more troops to the region, including bolstering its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and air defenses in undisclosed locations throughout Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Despite Camarillo pointing to the deployments causing cash problems, the White House’s supplemental funding request does not include any service-specific operations or personnel funding for the Middle East. The $10.6 billion in the request for the Defense Department for Israel focuses on weapons buying.

Ukraine funding has steadily lost support among House Republicans, but a bipartisan majority of lawmakers still supports funding for both Ukraine and Israel. Despite that, the prospect of approving the funding has dimmed because the debate has gotten caught up in a separate fight over U.S. border security. Republicans are demanding changes to U.S. immigration law be included in the funding package.

“If the commander-in-chief or somebody or the secretary of defense would just say, ‘as well as strong security at our southern border,’ there’d be several hundred votes” for the supplemental, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who was speaking on the same panel as Camarillo during the Reagan forum in California, said in response to Camarillo’s comments on how not passing the funding could hurt recruiting.

Nearly every branch of the military has been struggling to make its recruiting goals in recent years. The Army, the largest branch, has been struggling the most, falling 10,000 active-duty recruits short in the fiscal year that ended in October.

Military officials have attributed their woes to a number of factors, including a strong civilian job market and a shrinking pool of eligible young Americans because they can’t meet fitness and academic standards.

When pressed on solutions Saturday, Camarillo repeatedly pointed to the overhaul of recruiting operations Army officials announced earlier this year. He also echoed other officials who have pointed to the need for a “call to service across the country.”

“One of the things we can do is reemphasize that call to service,” Camarillo said, adding that reinvigorating programs such as the Presidential Youth Fitness Program could help “address challenges that [the Army] can’t control, like test standards and school performance, as well as physical fitness.”

Related: Military to Curtail Recruiting and Duty Station Moves if Congress Resorts to a Yearlong Stopgap Budget, Joint Chiefs Chairman Warns

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