The Corner

National Security & Defense

Yes, We Have a Military Recruiting Crisis

A man does pullups at a Marine recruiting center at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, Minnesota, August 30, 2008. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

In response to Probably Enough Good Men

Last fall, the Heritage Foundation and Mission: Readiness convened a panel discussion about young Americans unable to join the military that featured the commanding generals of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training.

During that panel, these generals, who are in charge of recruiting volunteers for the Army and training them to become soldiers, offered dire warnings about current recruitment challenges and discussed trends that will make them worse in the future.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my 36 years in the U.S. Army and my work on national-defense policy and strategy, it’s that decisions are best made by listening to experts with the right data and those with firsthand knowledge of the situation.

Unfortunately, Jason Richwine’s recent blog post “Probably Enough Good Men” reflects a lack of understanding about the current recruiting crisis that our U.S. Armed Services face.

The facts are clear: According to the Department of Defense, most young Americans are not qualified to serve in uniform. You don’t need to be a national-security expert to understand the threat that this poses to the health and future of an all-volunteer military.

You also don’t need to be an expert to understand why the military’s high standards are so critical to maintain the world’s most advanced military.

In April, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee,

To ensure the most lethal and effective fighting force in the world, the Department maintains high mental, physical, and behavioral standards. These necessarily high standards mean that 71% of young Americans (ages 17-24) are ineligible to join the military without a waiver.

President Trump has called for a significant increase in military strength that will require an increase in service members. As U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R., Ariz.) wrote in his white paper “Restoring American Power,”

A second priority is regaining capacity for our military, which does not have enough ships, aircraft, vehicles, munitions, equipment, and personnel to perform its current missions at acceptable levels of risk.” [emphasis added]

For nearly a decade, hundreds of retired generals and admirals have been sounding the alarm about the Department of Defense’s findings. The national-security organization Mission: Readiness now consists of 750 retired generals and admirals not only drawing attention to the crisis, but offering a variety of nonpartisan solutions at the local, state, and federal levels aimed at mitigating barriers to enlistment.

While I welcome Mr. Richwine’s healthy skepticism about the current state of military recruiting, the consensus among the nation’s foremost military experts is clear: We have a recruiting crisis that will compromise our national security if current trends continue.

Thomas W. Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general, is a member of Mission: Readiness.

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