As the military services compete for an ever-shrinking pool of eligible recruits, some are faring better than others.
The Army and Marine Corps are set to fall on opposite sides of what has become a recruiting crisis as enlistment estimates roll in this week and the fiscal year comes to a close on Oct. 1.
The Army is expected to end up roughly 10,000 recruits short of its goal to bring in 65,000 new active-duty soldiers, according to a service official with direct knowledge of the situation. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has met its recruitment goals for fiscal year 2023, Gen. Eric Smith, the service’s newly confirmed commandant, announced Thursday.
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“It’s a difficult environment right now,” Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, commander of the Army Recruiting Command, told Military.com in August. “I feel good about going into 2024; we’re seeing some positive momentum. Everyone is also competing for these young men and women. We want the very best to serve; we’re competing for them.”
The services are facing one of the toughest recruiting times in many years, caused partly by high employment rates and a shrinking pool of eligible Americans. Roughly 23% of 17- to 24-year-olds are eligible to serve, and that issue has gotten more dire due to rising obesity and falling academic scores.
The Army is not alone in its floundering. Military.com reported earlier this month that the Air Force will fall about 10% short of its intended goal; the last time the air service fell short of its enlistment target was 1999. The Navy also expects to fall short by 6,000 sailors.
While the Army did not meet its active-duty recruiting goals this year, it fared better than last year when it missed a recruiting goal of 60,000 new soldiers by 15,000.
Some of that can be attributed to the service’s new Future Soldier Preparatory Course, which takes applicants who do not meet academic or body fat standards for the Army. About 10,000 soldiers who otherwise would be not eligible to serve have completed the course and moved on to boot camp since August 2022.
Davis said recruiters have been back in public schools after the pandemic shut them out, providing valuable access to young Americans as other recruiting areas, mostly shopping malls, have become less relevant.
The Army also offered historically high enlistment bonuses of up to $50,000 for jobs that are becoming especially difficult to fill, such as Special Forces, tankers and medics, according to service data reviewed by Military.com.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth recently signaled the service will be making some changes and upgrades to its recruiting apparatus.
“We do need to make more profound changes,” Wormuth said during a panel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, D.C., last week. She stopped short of providing specifics and said announcements will come soon.
Meanwhile, as the Army and other branches struggle with recruiting, the Marine Corps successfully hit its enlisted, officer, active and reserve accessions this year, though not without significant effort.
“I’m mindful of how challenging an environment this is and want to publicly give credit to our professional recruiters and all our Marines who uphold our rigorous standards 24/7. They are setting the example,” Smith, commandant of the Marine Corps, said Thursday in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
In January, the Marine Corps announced thousands in cash bonuses to encourage recruiters to extend three-year duty assignments by up to 12 months amid the recruiting uncertainty.
Last year, the service only made its recruitment goal by eight Marines. It also tapped into its delayed entry program, a system that allows the Corps to stack its shipment of recruits in an efficient way and better forecast shortfalls.
According to the Associated Press, it did not have to dip into the delayed entry program this year.
The service is holding off on announcing the number of recruits, according to one senior Marine Corps official. Some recruits who ship out may not make it through boot camp, affecting the final count.
The last recruits to ship out for the year did so earlier this week, the official said, so the service expects to have final numbers by Oct. 15.
— Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on X @StevenBeynon.
— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on X @df_lawrence.
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