Army Secretary Christine Wormuth has said resolving the service’s recruiting problems remains one of her top priorities, but that it may stretch into 2024 or further before the service can recover from its recent recruiting shortfalls.
“It took us more than a year to get into the situation that we’re in, in terms of the recruiting landscape, and I think it’s going to take more than a year to turn it around,” Wormuth said during a Feb. 23 panel discussion hosted by Project for Media and National Security at George Washington University.
The Army missed its fiscal year 2022 recruiting goal by about 15,000 recruits, representing a 25 percent miss on the service’s 60,000 troop recruiting goal for the year. The Army has predicted the 2023 fiscal year will be another challenge for the service, leaving them with a further shortfall of 20,000 soldiers. This year, the Army’s recruiting goal is 65,000 new soldiers.
“We are really focused on a call to service. We have set a very ambitious recruiting target this year—65,000,” Wormuth said. “That’s 5,000 more than, frankly, our goal was last year. We are pulling out all of the stops to try to do our very best to make that mission; but that is a major priority for us this year.”
The military has seen a number of factors contributing to its recruiting challenges in recent years. In September, a “study from the Pentagon shows that 77% of young Americans would not qualify for military service without a waiver due to being overweight, using drugs or having mental and physical health problems,” reported military.com.
Wormuth described the Army as being in a process of reintroducing itself to the American public. Military officials have said the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in undercutting recruiting because recruiters have traditionally relied on access to public schools to get young Americans interested in military service and many recruiters had little to no access to schools throughout 2020 and parts of 2021.
Some misperceptions about Army service may also have had an impact on recruiting.
“I’ve noticed some awareness questions that really caught me off guard, like ‘Hey, I was told that until I finish basic training and Advanced Individual Training, I can’t get paid,’ or ‘[I can’t] own a pet as a soldier,’” Army Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, commanding general of Army Recruiting Command recently told Stars & Stripes. “And certainly, all of these things are not true.”
The Army also recently shared some internal survey findings with the Associated Press, indicating that young Americans don’t see military service as relevant to their lives. The Army shared the “general findings” of the survey data with the Associated Press but did not provide full details of the survey methodology.
Republicans See ‘Wokeness’ problem
Some Republican lawmakers have attributed the introduction of so-called “wokeness” into the military as a contributing factor to the recruiting challenges.
“Wokeness at the DoD has harmed recruitment, retention, and morale, wasted service members’ time and taxpayer’s dollars, and undermined the apolitical character of the military, which is a major threat to democracy and the American way of life,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel and a U.S. Navy Reserve officer.
Banks and Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) recently sent a letter to Wormuth, calling on her to provide the full details of the Army’s recent recruiting surveys after the Associated Press report minimized the impact of “wokeness” and the now-defunct military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate that played on Army recruiting.
“Having spent my career as an Army officer and green beret, I am very concerned with the Army’s ability to recruit and retain our nation’s best and brightest for military service,” wrote Waltz, who is an Army Special Forces Green Beret. Waltz continues to serve in the National Guard, while also serving as chairman of the House Armed Service’s Subcommittee on Readiness.
Waltz and Banks wrote that the reported Army survey data “stands in stark contrast to publicly available polling data on military recruiting.” The lawmakers shared examples of other surveys that suggest growing concerns about the political nature of the military is a greater concern than the Army let on with the survey findings it shared with the Associated Press.
“In the AP article, you stated that the survey data is a tool to ‘assuage the concerns that some may have, whether influencers or members of Congress, about wokeness or the vaccine mandate–which is now rescinded–and show they are not, by any means, primary drivers of the recruiting challenges we’re experiencing,’” wrote Waltz. “In the interest of transparency, we call on the Army to publicly release its entire data set, instead of cherry-picking data to fit a narrative. This issue is critical to our national security, and of great importance to the American people.”
NTD News reached out to Wormuth’s office for comment but did not receive a response before this article was published.
Debate Over Politicized Military
In the summer of 2020, as protests and riots over racial unrest spread throughout the country, the U.S. Army was caught sharing a training slide that listed then-President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan as an example of “covert white supremacy.”
In 2021, Waltz shared allegations of Critical Race Theory trainings and seminars being conducted at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Addressing Critical Race Theory during a June 2021 congressional hearing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said it’s important for members of the military to “be widely read” before saying “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white.”
After President Joe Biden and members of his administration implemented a military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate, in 2021, hundreds of U.S. troops were discharged from the military for remaining unvaccinated. In most cases, requests for religious accommodations to the vaccine mandate were denied and some service members described the mandate as a tool for a “political purge.”
“We get criticized, frankly, sometimes for being ‘woke.’ I’m not sure what ‘woke’ means,” Wormuth said in an October press conference. “I think ‘woke’ means a lot of different things to different people but first of all I would say if ‘woke’ means, you know, we are not focused on war fighting, we are not focused on readiness, that doesn’t reflect what I see.”
Democratic lawmakers have pushed back on criticisms of “wokeness” in the military. In December, the then-Democratic majority on the House Armed Services Committee sidelined a debate over woke policies in the military. Then-chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) even characterized criticisms of “woke” policies as posing a risk to recruiting.
“At a time when [we] are short of personnel, excluding personnel for reasons other than their ability to do the job, is just stupid,” Smith said at the time. “This [resolution] does not help the military. This is not a good way to address serious issues.”
Last month, Rep. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.) told Military.com that it’s the Republican claims of woke politics infiltrating the military, rather than the policies themselves, that are undermining public trust in the U.S. military.
“I have zero time for the political distractions and BS, and I will very aggressively call that out,” said Ryan, who is a West Point graduate and Army veteran.
From NTD News