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US military 41,000 troops short of recruitment goal

"Battle to Belong" Marine Corps recruitment video. (Marine Corps Recruiting/Released)
December 19, 2023

The United States military missed its recruiting goal by a combined total of 41,000 personnel across its various branches in 2023.

The acting undersecretary for the Pentagon’s personnel and readiness, Ashish Vazirani, recently confirmed to Congress that the U.S. Armed Forces missed recruiting goals by roughly 41,000 recruits in fiscal year 2023.

“That number understates the challenge before us as the services lowered [their] end-strength goals in recent years, in part because of the difficult recruiting environment,” Vazirani said. 

According to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Bill, which was passed by Congress last week and is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden, the U.S. military will be reduced to 1,284,500 personnel, representing the lowest number of service members since before World War II.

The Daily Mail reported that the U.S. Army is expected to have 445,000 active-duty soldiers, representing an 8.4% or 40,000 decrease in soldiers over the past three years. The U.S. Navy is expected to have a decrease of 10,000 sailors, marking a 3% reduction, and the U.S. Air Force is expected to have a decrease of 13,475 airmen, representing a 4% reduction. Finally, the U.S. Marine Corps is expected to have a decrease of 8,900 active-duty members, marking almost a 5% reduction over the past three years.

READ MORE: Pentagon lowering recruitment standards again: Report

Vazirani told Congress that the current military recruiting challenges in the United States “are complex and multifaceted.”

According to Vazirani, recruitment has been hindered by a “strong economy,” which has provided young Americans with “more options” to choose from. He also claimed that the United States currently has a smaller population eligible for military recruitment.

Vazirani listed multiple challenges related to the generation of Americans born between 1997 and 2012, known as Generation Z. The acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness explained that Generation Z has a low level of trust in institutions, is less likely than previous generations to follow traditional career paths, and has fewer relatives who served in the military.

According to Military Times, while the 2024 National Defense Authorization Bill received bipartisan support for reduced military numbers, multiple lawmakers have expressed concern that the reduction in the size of the military could lead to national security risks.

“We need a larger force, in every branch,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “But the reality of recruiting is driving the numbers, not what we actually need.”

According to Military Times, Robert Greenway, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, has also warned against reducing military levels in the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

“Instead of addressing the problem, the answer has been to move the goalposts and reduce the positions in the services,” Greenway stated. “So they are institutionalizing the problem, and that’s not a good approach.”