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Vice Chiefs Talk Recruiting Shortfalls, Readiness Issues

The Army, Navy and Air Force will not make enlistment goals this year, officials told the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness, yesterday.

The Marine Corps and Space Force expect to make their goals, with the Space Force having some questions about interservice transfers.


Gen. Randy A. George, the Army's vice chief of staff, and Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti, the vice chief of naval operations, told the committee that their services are doing better than they expected, but that they will still be short at the end of the fiscal year.

The Army expects to recruit 55,000 new soldiers this year, which is 10,000 short of the service's goal, George said.

The Navy expects to be about 6,000 enlistees short, Franchetti said.

The Air Force expects to be about 10,000 airmen short throughout the active and reserve components, Gen. David W. Allvin, the Air Force vice chief of staff told the subcommittee.

George spoke about the Army's problems of recruiting and while he was speaking for the Army specifically, his statements apply to all the services. He said that his service component is "challenged by the fact that a small number of young Americans — 23 % — are qualified to serve," he said. "Fewer still, we're finding, are interested in serving. And that's something that we are working very hard to change."

A man in military uniform propels his body over a beam.
Best Warrior
Oregon Army National Guard soldiers participating in the Best Warrior Competition, take on the obstacle course at the Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Ore., March 17, 2023.
Photo By: John Hughel, Army
VIRIN: 230317-Z-CH590-0854

The propensity to serve has dropped and that concerns all. "Our Army remains a great place to be, and I think our high retention rates speak to that," George said. "The trouble is, many Americans don't realize it or believe it. Military service, to many people, seems like a life setback. In reality, it's a life accelerator. That has certainly been my experience since I enlisted as a private right out of high school. It's a great team with an important mission and ample opportunity to learn, grow and make an impact. And we have to get that story out. And we're pouring all of our energy into that effort."

Personnel is the most important aspect of readiness, but there is much more. The Army, George said, must focus on warfighting and training for battle in which all domains are contested. The service must support combatant commands with ready formations around the world. "Right now, we have 137,000 soldiers in over 140 countries," the vice chief said.

The Army is working with the defense industry to modernize the industrial base to increase productivity and ensure that the service has the stocks to fight when called upon.

"We are deterring the pacing challenge, China, by exercising and campaigning across the Indo-Pacific, holding the line in the European theater alongside our NATO partners," George said. The service is also adapting the lessons learned in Ukraine and incorporating new tactics into Army doctrine and training.

A man jumps from a helicopter into a body of water.
MH-60S Seahawk
A Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician jumps from an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter, attached to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, during International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express 2023, in the Persian Gulf, March 14, 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Anita Chebahtah
VIRIN: 230314-N-ZA692-1994

Franchetti said the Navy's readiness is based on people. "We are committed to improving their quality of service and personal resilience, investing in initiatives such as quality housing and childcare, access to the full continuum of mental health care, improved education and an environment free of sexual harassment and sexual assault," she said. "In this 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, we continue to focus on recruiting, retention and reducing gaps in our billets at sea."

The admiral also spoke of gains in ship readiness and improvements in maintenance. She told the panel that the fiscal 2024 budget request fully funds public and private ship maintenance, aviation depot maintenance, increases parts and spares and continues to grow the highly skilled public shipyard workforce.

Gen. Eric Smith, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said the service is ready to deter enemies or defeat them should deterrence fail. The Marine Corps is modernizing, and Smith said that effort is bearing fruit, especially regarding training and education. He said the corps is producing "an even more lethal Marine. From our basic rifleman training to our service level training exercises, we are becoming more lethal."

A military aircraft positions itself toward the boom area of another aircraft for refueling.
B-52 Stratofortress
An Air Force B-52 Stratofortress supports a mission in the Indo-Pacific region April 16, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Cedrique Oldaker
VIRIN: 230416-F-TF632-0037C

Marine training integrates joint and organic fires, improved communications and updated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to sense, track and destroy targets at ranges and complexities never seen before, he said.

Readiness is important in relation to the challenges. "Events of the past year remind us that global actors have the capability and intent to challenge peace and stability," Allvin said. "In the case of the pacing challenge the People's Republic of China, the speed at which they are developing advanced capability and capacity should serve as a warning for us to act with a greater sense of urgency. "We must maintain the necessary advantage to deter them from violent pursuit of objectives at odds with our national interests. Your Air Force is laser focused on this task."

The U.S. Space Force has made a good start, but more needs to happen, said Gen. David D. Thompson, the vice chief of space operations. He said there are two main challenges within the service. The first is to create a combat ready Space Force. This means development of an advanced full spectrum test and training infrastructure, the general said. "This infrastructure will be a system of systems that provides tests and training opportunities with high-fidelity mission simulators and threats, a professional aggressor force in a suitable range," he said.

The second primary challenge to Space Force readiness lies "in whether budgetary resources will be available in a timely manner to execute all we're planning to do," he said.

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