While some Republicans blame the COVID-19 vaccine or “wokeness” for the Army's recruiting woes, the military service says the bigger hurdles are more traditional ones: Young people don’t want to die or get injured, deal with the stress of Army life and put their lives on hold.
They “just don’t see the Army as something that’s relevant,” said Maj. Gen. Alex Fink, head of Army marketing. “They see us as revered, but not relevant, in their lives.”
Addressing those longtime issues has taken on greater urgency as the Army tries to recover from its worst recruiting year in decades, a situation aggravated by the tight jobs market. The Army is offering new programs, advertising and enticements in an effort to change perceptions and reverse the decline.
One incentive gives recruiters bonuses of up to $4,500 per quarter if they exceed their baseline enlistment requirement. A pilot program allows young enlisted soldiers — those in the three lower ranks — to get a promotion if they refer someone who enlists and goes to basic training. Only one promotion per soldier is allowed.
The Army fell about 15,000 soldiers, or 25%, short of its 60,000 recruitment goal last year, when all the branches struggled to meet recruiting goals.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the Army has set a difficult goal for this year: aiming to bring in 65,000 recruits, which would be 20,000 more than in 2022. It’s difficult to predict how it will go, she said, adding that recruiters need to do all they can to surpass last year’s numbers.
“I would say it is a stretch goal,” she said.
Wormuth said she and Gen. James McConville, the Army's chief of staff, believed they needed to set a big goal.
“I think we are seeing some forward momentum. But it is still too early to tell where we will likely land at the end of this fiscal year. I know we will do better than we did last year,” she said.
Guiding the Army's efforts are surveys intended to help pinpoint why young people dismiss the Army as a career.