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US military force at 80-year low, Pentagon urges ‘national call to service’

The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. (Dreamstime/TNS)
December 25, 2023

The United States military will have the smallest force in over 80 years as it prepares for the start of 2024. The Pentagon recently informed Congress that the U.S. military faces one of its “greatest challenges” as it navigates the “difficult recruiting environment” that resulted in multiple military branches missing recruitment targets in 2023.

According to the $886 billion National Defense Authorization Bill that was passed by Congress last week and is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden, the number of active-duty U.S. troops will drop to 1,284,500 in 2024.

The Daily Mail reported that the number of active-duty troops forecasted for 2024 represents the lowest number of troops since before the United States fought in World War II in 1941.

Ashish Vazirani, the Pengagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, recently told the House Armed Services Committee that the military missed its 2023 recruitment goal by 41,000 personnel.

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

READ MORE: Navy 7,000 sailors short of recruitment goals

Vazirani warned Congress that the U.S. military’s “all-volunteer force” is currently facing “one of its greatest challenges” since it was launched in 1973 after the military draft was ended. Vazirani added that the military needs American leaders to help issue a “national call to service.”

According to The Daily Mail, while the Marine Corps and the Space Force reached their recruitment goals in 2023, the Army, Navy, and Air Force each missed their recruitment targets.

“While the picture of the current recruiting environment is acutely difficult, the Defense Department and the military services are working together to resolve issues, improve processes, and expand awareness of the many opportunities military service offers,” Vazirani said. 

Vazirani told Congress that the causes of the recent recruitment shortfalls are “complex and multifaceted.”

According to the Pentagon, military recruiters have identified that individuals born between 1997 and 2012, known as Generation Z, have “decreasingly followed traditional life and career paths” and have a “low trust in institutions.”

The Pentagon also cites a lower percentage of young people in the United States with relatives who served in the military as a contributing factor to recruitment challenges. Vazirani claimed that just 20 years ago, only a quarter of young Americans had never thought about joining the U.S. military, while over 50% of young Americans today have never considered joining the military.

“This has led to a disconnect between the military and a large share of society,” Vazirani said. “Youth of today are not saying no to what the military has to offer, they simply don’t know much about military service.”

Vazirani stressed the importance of leaders talking to young people about the U.S. military and encouraging them to consider serving in the military. He said the military needs to “reach today’s youth” with a “message that resonates with them and motivates them to act.”

“Overcoming our recruiting challenges requires a national response with contributions from across government and the private sector,” he said. “Over the last 50 years, the all-volunteer force has proven itself to be the best way to maintain a force capable of defending our nation; and, with our combined efforts, I am confident we will remain as such for the foreseeable future.”