The US Military’s Alleged Recruiting Crisis Isn’t the Problem

Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

A recent article by Major General (ret.) Dennis Laich and Colonel (ret.) Lawrence Wilkerson notes a crisis in military recruitment in America. Here’s how their article begins:

The U.S. military’s all-volunteer force (AVF) model is an abject failure. Last year, the active Army fell 15,000 recruits short of its goal. This year, it was 10,000, and the Army Reserve fell 40% short of its goal. This year, the active Navy fell 7,000 short, and the Navy Reserve was 33% short. Finally, the active Air Force fell 3,000 recruits short, and the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard each fell 30% short of their goals. 

There is no reason to believe these trends won’t continue, and even less reason to believe they will not get worse. In the past 10 years, the propensity to serve has fallen from 15% to 9%, and the portion of the recruiting-age population qualified to serve has dropped from 30 % to 23%. The number of children 5 and under in the United States is 12% smaller than the 15- to 25-year-old cohort, presenting a grim demographic reality.  

Our national security crisis is part of a broader civic rot that plagues our democracy. Ultimately, the AVF’s failure could lead to war if the U.S. appears weak to a potential adversary.

Laich and Wilkerson would like to see a return of a lottery-based military draft for young men and women in America. I respect these men; we are part of the same organization, the Eisenhower Media Network. Yet I see this issue in a different light.

In essence, young Americans are voting with their feet by not joining the military in the numbers the AVF desires. This is not a bad thing. The U.S. military, if it was focused truly on national defense, would and should be considerably smaller. What enlarges our military (and its recruitment quotas) is imperial sprawl. Does the U.S. truly need to garrison roughly 800 military bases overseas? Does the U.S. Army truly need big brigades and battalions to fight conventional wars in Asia? Why does the Air Force need so many people? Why must the Navy have so many ships? Why do we need a growing Space Force?

I don’t see America appearing “weak” to potential adversaries. If anything, potential adversaries look at the U.S. as an overly strong and often unpredictable bully. Every country in the world knows the U.S. puts its military first, that the U.S. is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons in war, that the U.S. never met a war it didn’t like, even though it hasn’t won a major war since World War II. Military weakness is not a problem America is ever likely to have. Even when the empire eventually collapses, the military will still be the last American institution that will be fully funded. (Indeed, huge sums of money spent on the military is contributing to that collapse.)

We don’t need a revival of the draft. We need a revival of sanity. We need a foreign policy in which we mind our own business. In which we don’t dispatch military forces to every hotspot in the world. In which we don’t pummel other countries into submission, as we attempted to do with countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. (The death of Henry Kissinger the Pummeler at age 100 shows that only the good die young.)

A smaller military might mean fewer foreign entanglements for America as well as far less global destruction (think of Southeast Asia as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and so on). That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Of course, the U.S. military’s answer to its alleged recruiting crisis is to hire an expensive advertising agency, giving it more than $450 million in taxpayer money to craft new ways of enticing young Americans to join the AVF. It just goes to show how much money the Pentagon has to throw (or throw away) at perceived problems.

If America faced a true and immediate threat (a clear and present danger, as the saying goes) to its national security, I don’t doubt young Americans would step up. But I see no foreign enemy seeking the military conquest of Topeka or Tampa or Tucson, nor do I see a pressing need for a super-sized military that still retains a Cold War mentality of full-spectrum dominance against the Reds (China and Russia remain the bogeymen for most in the U.S. military and Congress as well.)

As one major general once told me, less money for the U.S. military, along with fewer troops, might have the salutary effect of forcing the brass to think for once before invading another country or threatening yet another war. Wouldn’t that be something.

Throughout most of our history, America had a profound distrust of large standing militaries and the mayhem and mischief they so often cause. It’s time to reignite that distrust.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.

24 thoughts on “The US Military’s Alleged Recruiting Crisis Isn’t the Problem”

  1. And it not because of low pay and benefits. New GIs earn twice as much when they join the military with free medical and a four-year college scholarship upon completing their four-year service contract. The problem is that few want to lose their legs fighting for Ukraine or Israel or the Washington elite against China.

    1. Or be forcibly vaccinated or inhale burning trash, etc. The military is legal slavery; they can make you do most anything.

      1. Every 22 minutes an American soldier commits suicide. Even those soldiers who have not been in combat.

        1. Partly it’s probably social media doing it. I can’t have a conversation without people recording me and uploading it. Neighbors do it; everyone does it. It’s worse than how Soviet societies likely were.

    2. US armed forces contracts are for eight years — usually six active and two inactive reserve, but with “stop loss” to let them keep you indefinitely if they decided they need you.

      1. Or, as in the Korean war, bring back into service men and women who have skills, or who flew bombers or fighter aircraft in WWII. The movie, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” told such a story, of a WWII veteran who was called back into service to fly fighter jets.

    3. Just turns into subversion where you have Markos Moulitsas of the DailyKos worshiping it as unwitting socialist paradise.

  2. The US could be well defended by the second amendment and nukes. Add a few drones and missiles, and everyone is safe from an invasion by Jamaica or Saint Kitts and Nevis.

  3. No one with a brain believes america’s military has anything to do with “self defense” anymore. The USA sacrifices men’s lives for nothing; then shrugs and walks away. Over 200 marines, who “joined to defend america” were blown up in Lebanon, so the US abandoned the mission. 15 SOF who “joined to defend america” were killed, and many more maimed, in a failed attempt in Somalia to “get Adid”, so the US abandoned THAT mission. Thousands of men were killed in Iraq, to stop the proliferation of WMD, but there WERE NO WMD, so the US shrugged, and abandoned that mission; and don’t even get started on the ratfuck in Afghanistan. EVERY SINGLE PERSON KILLED IN THOSE “WARS” DIED FOR NOTHING.
    And through it all, the government and their pet monkeys in the media LIE about everything. Only someone desperate for money should even consider joining; then, use the military for every advantage and perk you can get, and then GTF out. Because, given the slightest opportunity, THEY will happily use and discard you.

    1. I watched “The National Bird” on Netflix and it was about a man that joined the military to get off the streets and have a job although he disapproved of the military and its wars.

      1. No issues with that. Use them for whatever you can get, then when you are ready, get out. Just don’t be naive thinking you are somehow “serving your country” or “defending freedom”; keep your eyes open and your wits about you.

        1. Right but there needs a long term solution too. Louden County Virginia is the richest county in the US, but West Virginia has 2nd lowest gdp in the country because corn subsidies screwed up their one industry they could have because of hills. We can expect everything to follow that same rubric. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44l6f7iXGAk

        2. When you sign that document, it means you can be thrown into the maelstrom of combat to experience the stench, the bodies, the fact that projectiles are being flung at you to take you out. Boot camp prepares one to be gung ho, to be an efficient killer, but does not prepare that person for the experience of combat, such as watching your fellow soldier have half of his head blown off.

  4. Thousands of Wounded Warriors and similar ads with legless and armless veterans begging for money is a public relations nightmare for the military.

    First, it reveals the horrific nature of war and second it reveals the abject neglect and lack of funding for wounded vets, whom are disposable by the military that recruited them once they are no longer fit for duty.

    1. The 106 billion wasted on Ukraine (and I mean WASTED; so much of it has simply disappeared, or been thrown away on hyper-overpriced junk) would have gone a long way to providing adequate care and support for our wounded veterans.

      1. So many Americans believe in the US system. If you mention such problems, they fuss that you’re “being negative.”

        People focus on making money. If you complain, you get recorded, the video or audio uploaded online, and your employment is threatened.

        Neighbors record one another. Strangers record one another. It’s like communist spying but perhaps worse.

    2. If we didn’t send men and women to chase monsters abroad there would not be any wounded warriors.

  5. “We don’t need a revival of the draft. We need a revival of sanity. We need a foreign policy in which we mind our own business.”

    Good luck with that. The US government is directed and comprised of hubristic, arrogant, meddling busybodies. Among such a pack of egotistical fools the prospect of a display of ‘sanity’ is wishful thinking fantasy. The possibility of anyone who is sane being elected, and remaining alive long enough to change the current status quo would be; if I might paraphrase Dr. Johnson, a triumph of hope over experience. What we need; and it is long overdue, is NO Rulers!

  6. A huge standing army is not required, nor is there a valid need for so many national guard units to be called up. We need to tell the Defense Department that there is no ground threat. Cool it will you please. The two ground borders we have are with Canada and Mexico, who aren’t a threat.

    The Founding Fathers knew and Constitutional scholars out there know about Article I, Section 8 which favors a standing navy, but not a standing army:
    1: The Congress shall have Power. . .
    12: To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
    13: To provide and maintain a Navy

    So a standing army is unconstitutional I’d say.

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