Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said this week that the media’s reporting of what’s going on within the Army shares the blame for the service’s recruiting struggles.
The entire military has struggled with recruiting in the 2022 fiscal year, but the Army is on track to miss its recruiting goal by about 10,000 recruits and end up 18,000 troops short of its initial 2022 goal force size when the fiscal year ends this month.
During a Tuesday conference Wormuth, the Army’s top civilian leader, told soldiers that the news media’s coverage was creating a warped perception of the service, Military.com reported. This warped perception, she claimed, was to blame for some of the service’s recruiting issues.
“For parents and influencers, there are concerns over psychological harm,” Wormuth said. “Parents see headlines about suicides and sexual harassment and assault in the military.”
The news media’s coverage of these issues isn’t untrue, however.
An April report by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office found that 176 active component U.S. Army soldiers took their own lives in 2021. It was the highest number of any military branch, exceeding the 59 suicides within the U.S. Navy, 51 in the U.S. Air Force and 42 in the U.S. Marine Corps combined. Those 176 soldiers represented the Army’s highest number of suicides since 9/11 and the highest suicide rate since 1938, Defense One reported.
In August, the Associated Press reported the results of a confidential survey found that the rate of sexual assault reporting had jumped 13 percent last year. That spike was largely fueled by a nearly 26 percent jump in reports involving Army soldiers.
According to Military.com, Wormuth did not directly address any efforts to combat suicide and sexual assault during her speech on Tuesday.
Beyond the suicide and sexual assault concerns, the Army also struggled with maintaining healthy living conditions for its soldiers. Soldiers have documented extensive mold problems through barracks at Fort Bragg for months. The Army has begun moving soldiers out of barracks on a section of the base known as Smoke Bomb Hill.
Wormuth did address these concerns about living conditions while speaking to soldiers on Tuesday, the Stars and Stripes reported. Wormuth said the Army’s goal is to get to a point “where we don’t have a situation where there are barracks that we didn’t realize were as bad as they were.”
“I think with an inventory of barracks as large and as old, in some cases, [as the Army has] I couldn’t look you in the eye and say, ‘No, there’s nothing else like [Smoke Bomb Hill] out there,'” the Army secretary said.
The Army also recently published guidance encouraging soldiers to go on food stamps if they’re facing financial struggles.