The National Guard is slightly short-handed, but officials fear the situation will only get worse.
The Army National Guard and Air National Guard both fell short of their enlistment goals for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Associated Press reported.
The numbers are small: the Army Guard missed the goal by 2 percent, and the Air Guard by less than 3 percent, National Guard Bureau head Gen. Daniel Hokanson told the AP.
Still, some officials say the numbers don’t paint a rosy picture for the future.
“If we don’t solve the recruiting and retention challenges we’re currently facing, we will see readiness issues related to strength begin to emerge within our units within the next year or two,” Maj. Gen. Rich Baldwin, Army National Guard chief of staff, told the AP.
The last year saw a total loss of about 7,500 service members due to recruiting shortfalls and less soldiers reenlisting, AP reports.
That news comes on the heels of the U.S. Army missing its own yearly recruiting goal by the largest margin on record.
The two Guard officials interviewed by AP partly blamed the enlistment struggles on inadequate incentives and a waning sense that the Guard’s services are needed.
Baldwin suggested that with deployments relating to the pandemic and civil unrest cooling off, soldiers and potential recruits perceive that we’re “on the backside of all of that” and are opting “to take advantage of the hot job market we have right now.”
Hokanson said the Guard can make itself a more competitive option by offering healthcare coverage. He said about 60,000 Guardsmen aren’t insured, and transitioning from a civilian employer’s plan to the military’s TRICARE program while on active duty can be cumbersome.
He also suggested expanded educational benefits and reintroducing bonuses for referring new recruits.
The Guard previously ran a referral bonus program for seven years, but it ended when fraud fears surfaced and investigations revealed at least one kickback ring, according to the Army Times.