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DOD Addresses Recruiting Shortfall Challenges

The Defense Department's acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness and senior manpower officials today testified about shortfalls in Army, Navy and Air Force recruiting in the fiscal year that ended in September at a hearing of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. 

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
VIRIN: 231005-N-KL637-1253Y

Ashish Vazirani said that during fiscal year 2023, the military services collectively missed recruiting goals by about 41,000 recruits. 

"That number understates the challenge before us as the services lowered [their] end-strength goals in recent years, in part because of the difficult recruiting environment," he said. 

"The all-volunteer force faces one of its greatest challenges since inception," he said. It was created in 1973 after the draft ended. 

The causes of the recruiting challenges "are complex and multifaceted," Vazirani said. They include: 

  • A strong economy, which has resulted in many more options for young people.  
  • A smaller eligible population. 
  • Generation Z, the generation born from 1997 to 2012, generally has a low trust in institutions. 
  • Generation Z has decreasingly followed traditional life and career paths. 
  • Young people have fewer family members who served, which decreases the propensity to serve. 

In 1995, 40% of young people had a parent who served in the military, Vazirani said. By 2022, just 12% had a parent who had served. "This has led to a disconnect between the military and a large share of society," he said. 

Two people, one in uniform and one in civilian clothes, pose with a tank.
USAREC hosts annual National Educator Tour
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
VIRIN: 230606-A-QC160-683

About 20 years ago, just over 25% of youths had never thought about serving in the military. In recent years, more than half of youths have never thought about serving in the military, he said.  

"Youth of today are not saying no to what the military has to offer. They simply don't know much about military service," he said. 

The military is not alone in navigating these challenges. Other national service programs — for example, AmeriCorps and Peace Corps — have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, he said. 

A group of young people stand a group and listen to two people in uniform.
MacDill Visit
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

"While the picture of the current recruiting environment is acutely difficult, the Defense Department and the military services are working together to resolve issues, improve processes, and expand awareness of the many opportunities military service offers," Vazirani said. 

Benefits of joining the military, he said, include: 

  • Competitive pay and benefits. 
  • Career training. 
  • A meaningful and motivating mission.  

"We must reach today's youth where they are with a message that resonates with them and motivates them to act," he said. 

Military marketing campaigns are more complex than in the past, he said. "We're constantly refining to adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape across different media and social media platforms." 

People stand with their hands over their hearts.
Joint Enlistment
Service members participate in a joint enlistment ceremony at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana, May 22, 2022. The new enlistees stand for the national anthem to start the ceremony.
Photo By: Army Spc. Kelsea Cook, National Guard
VIRIN: 220522-Z-OE180-0002

The military needs the help of leaders across the nation, including members of Congress, to make a "national call to service," especially for military service, but also for other public service, he said. 

"We need leaders to talk about military service with youth in their communities and ask them to learn about and consider serving in the military. Overcoming our recruiting challenges requires a national response with contributions from across government and the private sector," he said. 

"Over the last 50 years, the all-volunteer force has proven itself to be the best way to maintain a force capable of defending our nation; and, with our combined efforts, I am confident we will remain as such for the foreseeable future," he said. 

The Marine Corps and Space Force made their recruiting goals. 

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