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Chiefs Discuss Military Recruiting Challenges at Committee Hearing

The military's recruiting chiefs said they are making progress in meeting recruiting goals for fiscal 2024 even in the face of what one called "one of the toughest recruiting landscapes I've seen in over 33 years of service." 

Army Maj. Gen. Johnny K. Davis, commanding general of the Army Recruiting Command made the comment before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.  

Davis testified alongside Navy Rear Adm. Alexis T. Walker, commander of the Navy Recruiting Command; Marine Corps Maj. Gen. William J. Bowers, commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command; and Air Force Brig. Gen. Christopher R. Amrhein, commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service. 

A group of young people stand a group and listen to two people in uniform.
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Air Force recruits tour a KC-135 Stratotanker at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., June 14, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Lauren Cobin
VIRIN: 230614-F-CC148-2006Y

The Army, Navy and Air Force failed to meet recruiting goals in the fiscal year that ended in September. The Marine Corps and the Space Force made their goals, but the recruiting environment remains tough. 

"This recruiting crisis certainly did not appear overnight and cannot be repaired overnight," Davis said.  

All four men cited problems common to recruiting efforts across the services. They noted the percentage of American youths who qualify for military service has dropped, the COVID-19 pandemic limited the ability of recruiters to interact with potential recruits, the U.S. economy is booming with low unemployment, and the number of adult "influencers" with experience in the military continues to drop. 

The numbers are daunting. The Army, the largest service, has a goal of recruiting 55,000 active-duty soldiers during fiscal 2024 and roughly 60,000 for the reserve components. The other services have smaller numbers, but similar challenges. 

"The Army is an organization that teaches valuable skills and provides exceptional benefits," Davis said. "I want our nation's youth to know the Army is a career accelerator, and I need them to lead us into the future." 

The Army Recruiting Command seeks to attract talent and reintroduce the Army to the American public. "We will not lower standards, we will not sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity," Davis said. "Our main initiatives over the past year have shown real promise, such as the Future Soldier Prep Course." The course has had 14,000 graduates, with 95 percent going on to finish basic training and become soldiers.  

"We're still in the first quarter of the fiscal year, and [it's] too early to estimate where we will finish it, finish in 10 months, but I will say we're seeing momentum, and we'll continue to build upon it," he said. 

Two people, one in uniform and one in civilian clothes, pose with a tank.
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Tabari Wallace, special advisor to the North Carolina state superintendent for principal engagement, poses for a picture on a M1 Abrams tank at Fort Carson, Colo., June 6, 2023.
Photo By: Lara Poirrier, Army
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The Air Force failed to make its requiting goals for the first time in 24 years, Amrhein said during his testimony. The Air Force recruiting chief specifically mentioned the declining propensity for young Americans to serve. "We've seen a steady decline in the military even being an option for our youth as they contemplate the future, with propensity dropping from 13 percent four years ago to 10 percent." 

Amrhein also noted that only 12 percent of American youths have a parent who served in the military, compared to 40 percent in 1995. DOD's Joint Advertising and Marketing Research Service characterizes the youth market as "having transitioned from being disconnected with the military to mostly disinterested with it," the general said. "Reconnecting with our youth and breaking down unnecessary barriers to serve in our Air Force and Space Force is our priority over the next several years." 

The Air Force Recruiting Service put in place changes, and Amrhein said he is cautiously optimistic about fiscal 2024. "We started with 32 percent of our active duty goal already identified and in the bank, compared to just 16 percent last year," he said.  

The Marine Corps made its recruiting numbers. "Your Marine Corps exists to fight and win our nation's battles," Bowers told the senators. "Our performance in recruiting speaks for us. Our combat heritage is embedded within Marine Corps Recruiting Command's DNA; we share the same fierce competitive spirit to win, no matter the challenge." 

Over the years, Bowers said, the corps has invested in the Recruiting Command, with service as a Marine recruiter seen as a plus for career advancement. "This has been and will continue to be our greatest source of strength, as we face what some have called the most challenging recruiting environment since the inception of the all-volunteer force," he said. "Marine recruiters will continue to meet the expectations of our nation by holding true to our warrior ethos and our core values of honor, courage, and commitment. We compete for the best people in every zip code in our nation, and our Marine recruiters actively attract and inspire those young men and women of character to take up the challenge of earning the title Marine." 

Two people in officers uniforms walk between rows of a Navy honor guard.
Honor Guard
Navy Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander Fleet Forces Command, inspects the Honor Guard at Navy Recruit Training Command, Oct. 5, 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Stuart Posada
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The Navy is in the midst of changes to recruiting and is adjusting in real time. "While the Navy did not meet its recruitment goal for fiscal '23, we continuously adapted our processes to reduce an initially forecasted gap by 50 percent," Walker said. "As we begin fiscal '24, we are again faced with a challenging environment and continue to scrub our processes to remove inefficiency, add recruiters, and expand the pool of qualified and interested candidates."  

The Navy has placed more recruiters in the field and established a national recruiting operations center. The Navy is also launching a marketing campaign to target adult influencers in young people's lives. Finally, the Navy has instituted a Future Sailor Preparatory Course at Recruit Training Command, Illinois, "to broaden the talent pool through physical fitness and academic enhancement ahead of recruit training," the admiral said. 

"Today, our advertising remains nearly 100 percent digital, resulting in a 30 percent increase in national leads, in taking the message to where our future sailors are operating, which is online," he said. "Despite the recent and future challenges, our Navy team stands ready to take advantage of the opportunity to share positive military service experiences with future recruits and their influencers." 

Walker called on the senators to do their part and asked each member to "consider personally engaging with their constituents and the media in a national call to service. Your public support for military recruiting will make a positive difference."

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VIDEO | 1:45:18 | Military leaders Speak on Recruitment Efforts

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