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Army keeps blaming everyone but itself for bad recruitment – cites fat Americans, angry parents, bad press, the economy and more

Christine Wormuth at the Center for New American Studies 2018 Annual Strategic Competition Conference in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2018. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)
October 28, 2022

On the heels of the U.S. Army’s historic recruiting miss in the 2022 fiscal year, the service’s leaders are consistently blaming everyone but themselves for the shortfall.

In a Wednesday panel discussion during the CNBC Work Summit, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth pointed to a range of problems hurting the Army’s recruiting efforts, including obesity, a competitive jobs market and even worried parents. Speaking to CNBC’s Morgan Brennan, Wormuth said the decline in the number of Americans that can meet Army standards is one of the two biggest problems the service faces for recruiting.

“Only about 23 between of kids between 16 and 21 are able to meet our standards, and some of that, frankly, is reflective of the problem that we have in our country with obesity,” Wormuth said. “And so, some of that, frankly, is reflective of the problem that we have in our country with obesity.”

While Wormuth’s comments attribute the recruiting shortfall to America’s obesity problems, the obesity problems have been around for years without the Army missing its recruiting goals like it did this year. The other U.S. military branches, which also have to contend with America’s weight problems, struggled with recruiting but did not experience as large of a miss as the Army did this year.

Wormuth further listed “behavioral health or misconduct” as contributing factors in the Army’s recruiting woes, which again are problems all military branches would have to contend with.

During the CNBC panel discussion, Wormuth also attributed recruiting struggles to problems with how the Army is perceived by parents of potential recruits.

“We see parents worrying about, you know, if my child joins the military, you know, will they automatically have PTSD? You know, will they be sexually harassed, for example, you know, will they think about committing suicide?” Wormuth said.

Earlier this year, Wormuth raised similar concerns that negative press coverage of the Army has hurt the service’s reputation. In a September conference she said “parents see headlines about suicides and sexual harassment and assault in the military” and there are “concerns over psychological harm.”

During her comments this week, Wormuth noted another reason for the Army’s recruiting struggles: a competitive job market.

“The job market is hot right now,” Wormuth said. “Wages have gone up a lot and that’s, that’s great for Americans, but it’s making it harder for us in the army to compete.”

Wormuth also addressed another issue for recruiting: propensity to serve.

“The second really hard problem that we have is what we call propensity to serve, which is really who who can see themselves joining the military and serving the country,” she told Brennan on Wednesday. “And right now, only nine percent of young Americans say that they’re interested in joining the military and I think that is something that’s going to take time to change.”

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Joseph Martin has also raised concerns about obesity and the propensity of Americans to want to serve during a July 19 congressional hearing.

During their discussion, Brennan asked Wormuth to address concerns that the military had become politicized and whether that had played a role in the Army’s recruiting issues.

“When I go out and talk to soldiers, you know, all around the countries or overseas, I don’t hear a lot from them about politics,” Wormuth said.

Wormuth also pointed to the idea that the military is becoming politicized as another issue of negative public perception impacting parents of potential recruits.

“I think where it’s maybe more of an issue is with parents, you know, who who may be watching the news and kind of seeing how the army sometimes can be turned into a little bit of a political football,” she said. “And I think the way that we navigate that is just to continue to stress to young Americans and to parents and other kinds of influencers, that the army is apolitical and when you join the army, you swear an oath to the Constitution. You don’t swear an oath to either political party. You don’t swear an oath to a specific president. You’re swearing an oath to the Constitution to protect the nation.”

The military has become involved in several politically charged issues in recent years.

A set of diversity training materials the Army distributed in 2020 listed then-President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan as a “covert white supremacist” statement.

West Point cadets have also been forced to attend other politically-charged diversity events, including a mandatory Sept. 24, 2020 seminar in which white police officers were described as murderers. That seminar also included segments from a lecture by Dr. Carol Anderson, who has said the Republican Party’s platform is one of “White nationalism” and “the destruction of the sinews of democracy and the American people.”

Other military leaders waded into a social media battle with Fox News host Tucker Carlson last year after the opinion host did a segment covering maternity flight suits for pregnant service members and commenting that the military is distracted from its “core mission, which is winning wars.”

During a press conference earlier this month, Wormuth said she doesn’t understand criticism the service has received about being “woke” but stands by its diversity efforts. At the same time, she urged military leaders to “exercise good judgment” before getting into social media arguments and to stay “out of the culture wars” online.