At one point in our history, almost every male over 18 had served in the military for at least a few years. The draft was utilized for the Civil War, under President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 for World War I, and again for World War II. In a survey of 18-year-olds shared in LIFE magazine in 1942, 90% of the 10,000,000 US high school students surveyed felt America should keep fighting, and 68.9% felt that military training should be compulsory after the war. Today’s world is a massive shift from the 1940s. In 2021, total military personnel, including active duty, retired reserve, and ready reserve, are 2,586,825 people per Military One Source. In 2021, there were 331.9 million people in America. This means that 0.01% of the American population serve in the military, worlds away from the 68.9% of high schoolers in 1942 who felt that mandatory military training was necessary. Is it any wonder that recruitment is at an all-time low?
The military is now an all-volunteer force. This means that the numbers in each military branch depend heavily on the recruitment to each branch.
One reason recruitment is low is the lower number of Americans who are eligible to be recruited. Weight and behavioral health conditions are automatic removals from eligibility, depending on the military service branch. The Army is working to address this with a pilot program called the Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. This program began in August 2022 to address academic and physical fitness barriers for those individuals to enter military service. At the end of 2022, over 3,000 students attended the program, graduated, and moved to basic combat training. During the course, the recruits have up to 90 days to meet the Army’s standards.
Another barrier to recruitment is that single parents must give up guardianship of their children for initial enlistment. With 11 million single-parent households who may not have anyone to provide guardianship for their children, this is a massive barrier to entering military service. Who would be an appropriate caretaker for your children during the initial enlistment? However, there is a large number of single parents serving in the U.S. military –119,186 of them, according to Military One Source. The recommendation to address the barrier for other single parents to join the military, there is a suggestion to allow recruits to regain custody of their children at 12-18 months of active duty. The reality of this happening is yet to be seen. Childcare centers are often full with very long wait lists. While active duty do get priority, this may mean that other families would not receive childcare to make room for the single-parent active duty member. If this program is enacted, more childcare centers and after-school programs should be made to provide affordable care for all.
Per a Newsweek article, Dr. Beth Asch, a senior economist at RAND who studied military recruitment, stated, “..when the civilian economy is strong, military recruiting becomes a lot more difficult to enlist the type of people the military prefers. It’s not just that the unemployment rate is very low. It’s that we know that fewer younger men are participating in the labor force. They’re not working, and they’re not even looking for work. They’ve left the labor force.”
Marijuana is still federally illegal, while there are several states where its use is legal. While a part of the federal government, marijuana is still illegal in the military. Given its sizeable legal area, many would-be recruits had used marijuana and tested positive on initial testing, meaning they cannot continue in the recruitment process. The Army now allows recruits to retest even after a positive test during the first assessment.
There are several barriers to recruitment for the military service. The lack of desire and ability to serve due to weight, health, or academic concerns. And simply due to being a single parent not wanting to give up their guardianship. While some of these barriers are being addressed with specific programs and potentially changing guardianship rules, the reality is that the federal government needs to move quickly. These changes will be discussed, evaluated, and enacted, so it could take several years unless something changes. Will there be a change quick enough to address the lack of recruitment? Time will tell.