Morgan Phillips, Daily Mail, 9/19/22
Former Defense Sec. Mark Esper issued a warning about the U.S. military’s dismal recruitment numbers, writing that only a small fraction of the U.S. is fit to serve anymore since many are either overweight, on drugs or have a criminal past.
‘The U.S. military’s all-volunteer force (AVF) is slowly dying,’ Esper wrote in an op-ed for Fox News. ‘The armed services are struggling to meet their recruiting goals like rarely before.’
Esper, former secretary of the Army, noted that branch will be most affected – falling short by up to 15,000 soldiers this year.
‘The fact is the pool of Americans aged 17-24 who are qualified and interested in serving continues to shrink,’ he said. In 2018, only 29 percent of young people met the military’s entry requirements, the other 71 percent being likely ineligible due mostly to ‘obesity, drug use, physical and mental health problems, and criminal misconduct,’ Esper wrote.
‘Worse, of the 3.5 million young Americans remaining, only 9% (~320,000) have a proclivity to serve. A nation of 332 million people should do better than that,’ Esper wrote.
The former secretary also decried a ‘knowledge gap’ due to civilians’ ‘lack of interaction with those in uniform and said the White House and Congress must act together to ‘eliminate misconceptions’ about life in uniform.
He called for the creation of a commission to look at ways to improve American youth’s health and fitness and to find new ways for civilians and service members to interact, including ensuring recruiters have ‘unfettered access to high schools across America.’
‘The Pentagon must steer away from lowering standards, reducing the size of the military, or creating hollow combat formations,’ he added.
‘With the threats from China and elsewhere growing, we cannot risk our future by ignoring these issues,’ the former secretary concluded.
Lt. Gen Xavier Brunson, the commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, expressed a similar theory as to why the Army was expected to fall so far short of its recruitment targets this year.
‘Some of the challenges we have are obesity, we have pre-existing medical conditions, we have behavioral health problems, we have criminality, people with felonies, and we have drug use,’ Brunson told Spokesman Review.
Over 22 percent of 12-to-19-year olds was obese between 2017 and 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). For adults, that figure rose to 42 percent.
To increase recruitment numbers, the Army plans to ‘lower the gates’ and find new ways to appeal to the armed services to youth, especially amid the lowest deficit since after the Vietnam War, according to the New York Times.
A survey conducted in June by the Army found youth knew little about Army benefits, including home-buying, early retirement and educational benefits.
More than half also thought soldiers have poor work-life balance.
The Army plans on shifting its recruitment focus by deploying ‘influencers.’
The service branch plans to maintain its standards, focus on quality, and invest in youth. Educators will be a key component in reaching potential recruits by teaching the various opportunities the army offers, Brunson said.
Monetary efforts to increase recruits are also being deployed with enlistment bonuses offered up to $50,000, and bonuses up to $35,000 for soldiers who ship out within 45 days, according to General James McConville, US Army Chief of Staff.
‘I think we just want to show people that the military is a viable option,’ Sgt. Jesse Wallace from a Spokane recruitment office told Spokesman Review.
‘We don’t want it to be seen as a last resort.’