Military recruiting cracks are showing

Posted: April 2, 2022 by ng36b in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Back in September I warned that military recruiting would nose dive over the next few years, complicated with a rise in early retirements and people leaving after their first enlistment. Given the trend starting in 2018 when the Blended Retirement fully replaced the old retirement system, my estimate was that in 2024 we would reach maximum recruiting pain, where people would be leaving and we couldn’t keep up.

A flurry of recent stories seems to indicate that this prediction is still valid.

First we have the Army openly admitting it cannot recruit enough soldiers, and its going to shrink in size instead.

Camarillo said the Army’s end strength, or total number of forces, would go from 485,000 soldiers currently to 476,000 in fiscal year 2022, which ends in September, and further down to 473,000 in fiscal year 2023.

He said the Army decided on reducing its recruitment goals instead of lowering standards.


But maybe this is just an Army problem? Or maybe the Army was told to shrink and this is a face saving measure? While that’s possible, let’s look at the Air Force.

The Air Force recruitment goal is 27,452 new airmen by Sept. 30. Halfway into the fiscal year, 9,920 new recruits are in uniform and 5,314 have signed contracts, according to Air Force data.

“We will struggle to meet our recruiting goal for fiscal year 2022,” Thomas said. “This is really the hardest recruiting environment since about 1999.”

Stars and Stripes

Oh. Guess not. What about the Navy?

The Navy is offering up to $50,000 bonuses for someone to enlist for six years. That’s unheard of in the Navy unless you happen to be a nuclear trained Sailor. The only reason you throw lots of money at a human resource problem is because you can’t get the talent with your current method.

And the Marines? They do a better job hiding it, calling it “Becoming pickier” about who they recruit, but its still right in first paragraph: “…as the Corps looks to recruit fewer and better Marines…”

Recruiting is getting tougher. That point is pretty clear. But why is it getting tougher? Well, if you trust the Army and Air Force, they say its because Americans are fatter and mentally less fit.

“The biggest disqualifying factors are obesity, fitness and mental health issues. This should not come as a surprise. Obesity in America, including among youth, continues to increase. More and more youth are being treated for mental health issues and being prescribed psychotropic drugs for treatment. Current numbers coming out of the Pentagon are that the percentage of individuals qualified to enlist without a waiver has dropped from 29% in 2016 to less than 25% in 2022.”

CDC data on obesity

Now, obesity is on the rise. Whether or not you trust the CDCs numbers, there are plenty of other graphs showing Americans, on average, being more overweight and more grossly overweight. There is also a rise in mental health issues, but I think its a problem of classifying darn near everything as a mental health issue and prescribing drugs for it. Its also not nearly as big an issue as one might think: by the CDCs data, its affecting somewhere around 6% of children.

I’d like to offer a different view here, and that is that even if the populace got healthier overnight, the military would struggle to recruit anyway, because the public no longer trusts the military.

There are plenty of pollsters that track trust in the military, often as part of a larger poll looking at trust in government institutions. If you look at Gallup, you’ll see a slight decline in trust, although Gallup lumps “a great deal” and “quite a lot” into the same category of trust when reporting numbers. It’s still a decline though, and when you look at a more in-depth breakout, we see the percentage of people responding “a great deal” declining while the “some” and “very little” crowd slowly grows.

From Gallup

Other polls also show this. This poll from the Reagan Foundation shows a massive drop in people who trust the military “a great deal,” and a large rise in people who don’t trust it “much at all.” Now, given its the Reagan Foundation, I was skeptical as to who they selected for the poll, but scrolling down to the bottom showed a pretty even split between Republicans, Democrats and Independent voters, so I’d like to think this is fairly representative of all Americans.

From Reagan Foundation

This lack of trust manifests itself in a lot of ways, from voting in politicians who actively campaign to cut defense spending to parents suggesting alternatives to their children desiring to join the military. When nearly half of parents would actively push their kids away from joining the military, that’s a pretty stark indicator that parents lack trust in the military. These actions make it much harder to recruit new members.

One of the biggest boons to military recruitment is the presence of a service member. Around 80% of new recruits have a close family member in the military, and 25% of them have a parent that served. This has turned the military into a bit of a family business, and its not a bad thing. Unfortunately, that apple cart is about to get upset because of recent military actions.

Take the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. While almost no Americans (except the CEOs at Northrup Grumman and BAE) supported staying in Afghanistan, most Americans wanted an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, similar to the US withdrawal from Iraq that left an intact government (no, not the Obama withdrawal, the Trump one). Did we get that? Nope. Not by a longshot. Afghanistan was at a stalemate, and the number of deaths and injuries had dropped to nearly zero. An orderly withdrawal over a year or two would likely have left a functioning government and a decent US and NATO victory in the region. Instead, we got a cowardly retreat.

What about the military’s COVID-19 vaccine policy? The military chose to die on this hill and forced out hundreds, likely soon to be thousands, of members over the COVID vaccine. Religious waivers were denied out of hand, to the shock of many. The military really said the quiet part out loud: they wanted compliance, and they would crush people as needed to get it.

What about the military’s increasingly woke pandering, alluded to in the Army article? The recent push to be more “inclusive,” along with extremism training, has really irked plenty of service members. While its hard to get numbers on this, many service members are voting with their feet. It is starting to show in retention numbers. The military has always been a triangle, with lots of junior people on the bottom and less on the top. But that relies on the bottom people staying past their first enlistment. And well, they aren’t. The trend is slow, but with the Navy numbers here, you can see that there are less E4 and E5 Sailors staying around. The E6 and above numbers are steady, but as those members reach 20 years, many will choose to retire, and the new retirement system doesn’t incentivize staying in the military long term, so the young people joining today will be leaving in droves after a 4-6 year enlistment.

From Statista

Let’s also look at one more statistic that is pretty shocking: the military’s use of non-judicial punishment. Most people don’t realize that if the military suspects a service member committed a crime, they really can violated the rights that citizens normally have in terms of due process. The process of punishing a service member through non-judicial punishment (called NJP) involves gathering some evidence and declaring that there is a “preponderance of evidence” to find them guilty. This legal standard means that the judge (in most cases, a military officer not trained in the law) finds there to be enough evidence that he or she is convinced by at least 50% that the service member committed a crime. Contrast this with “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which requires members to be convinced that there is essentially no real doubt that a member committed a crime.

If this sounds like it can be abused, you better believe it is. It’s hard to get data, but the Air Force released some information on the number of NJP cases per thousand airmen. If I add up the numbers, I get a rate of 45.32 cases per thousand in 2019, or 4,532 cases per 100 thousand. That seems really high, especially given that crime overall is falling in the US. Comparing it to total property crime rates in the US (1,953 per 100 thousand) and total violent crimes (398 per 100 thousand), it seems really high. Are Airmen engaging in more criminal behavior then their civilian counterparts? What kind of people are we recruiting that we get this high number? Or perhaps the system is grinding on otherwise innocent people in the disguise of “maintaining good order and discipline.” If that’s the case, how long will service members want to stay in a system like this?

The point here is that the military has become a hostile work environment, which is motivating people to seek employment elsewhere. Blaming obesity and mental health is a cop-out, because its something external to the organization that allow you to throw up your hands and say “People are fat and mentally unstable, thus I cannot reach my recruiting goals!” The SEALs and Marines have had tough standards for years, yet they always made numbers, largely due to people trusting those organizations and wanting to be there. That trust is gone due to actions the military took. Between losing wars, eliminating benefits and promoting an justice system that is broken and corrupt, the military has only itself to blame for creating a workplace that nobody wants to work in anymore.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. That should be obvious, since those organizations will tell you everything is just fine with them. If you liked this article, please consider donating to Da Blog and purchasing a book by the author for you or your friends.

  1. Sailorcurt says:

    I agree with everything except (potentially) this:

    “If this sounds like it can be abused, you better believe it is. It’s hard to get data, but the Air Force released some information on the number of NJP cases per thousand airmen. … it seems really high. Are Airmen engaging in more criminal behavior then their civilian counterparts?”

    Having been out for almost 20 years now, I have no idea about what’s going on right now so I can’t say NJP isn’t being abused, but I can say that when I was in, that wasn’t the case.

    For one thing, it’s not just an officer deciding to punish an enlisted person. Sure, that could happen, but in my experience, an offense has to be pretty well established for an officer to even consider awarding NJP.

    Secondly, unless at sea or at war, an enlisted member has the right to demand a trial by court-martial, with real lawyers and evidence and rules of law and everything. That very rarely happens because the accused knows they did it and could receive much more severe punishment from a court-martial than they ever would from the skipper. If the accused really feels they’re innocent, that’s the route to take.

    Thirdly, NJP isn’t generally used for criminal activity that you would see someone convicted of in civilian courts. Sometimes it’s employed in the case of petty crimes like theft, fighting, defacing property, etc, but it’s much more commonly used for “good order and discipline” offenses that wouldn’t even be crimes in the civilian world.

    If civilians could be charged and tried for not making it to work one day, cussing out their boss or habitually dressing sloppily, I guarantee the crime rates in the civilian world would become mind boggling.

    NJP is used to punish infractions that, in the real world, you’d just get fired for. Pink slips aren’t an option for a military leader, so other means of enforcing discipline are required.

    As I said, I can’t say in the current environment that NJP isn’t being abused by military leadership, but the raw numbers you cited are not evidence of this and are, in fact, meaningless. You’re comparing two completely different things.

  2. Ashley Squishy says:

    This is a positive development, but there’s another element driving the recruiting shortfall: we live in a world in which EVERY SINGLE position of power now goes to women. This includes police chiefs in all our major cities, and as I read today, the top commandant of the Coast Guard.

    Not one white (or even non-white) young man should consider joining either the military or local law enforcement authorities for that matter. Why risk your life in military adventures abroad for a country that holds you in contempt and closes off all opportunities for advancement if and when you get back? Why be a local LEO when you might find yourself imprisoned for enforcing the law?

  3. R H says:

    You actually make my point here:

    “If civilians could be charged and tried for not making it to work one day, cussing out their boss or habitually dressing sloppily, I guarantee the crime rates in the civilian world would become mind boggling.”

    Civilians have been punished by crappy bosses for a while, and now they are quitting in mass numbers. That’s the major driving factor in the “Great Resignation” right now. Now imagine if that happened to the military…except it already is.

    And NJP is absolutely being abused. I watch it happen everyday, and it makes me sad. The fat admirals and generals that lost our wars are busy punishing people for wearing white socks and forgetting their reflective belt. At some point, the folks that have skills simply quit and make money elsewhere, leaving behind mostly mediocre folks or ones that are completely OK with compliance…not always what we want in a military.