Home » Budget Industry » Panel: Pentagon Facing Future Recruiting Challenge Due to Lack of Candidates

Panel: Pentagon Facing Future Recruiting Challenge Due to Lack of Candidates

Sailors stand at attention in formation in the hangar bay of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). US Navy Photo

All the military services face increased recruiting challenges because more than 70 percent of America’s youth do not meet Pentagon standards for enlistment, a member of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday.

Rep. Don Bacon, (R-Neb.) and a retired Air Force brigadier general, said, “The single most important ingredient to readiness is the constant flow of willing volunteers.” But with 71 percent of the population between 17 to 24 unable to meet the fitness, weight and moral standards requirement, “it’s a red flag for our country.”

That figure of failures remains in place as the services are trying to grow their forces for the future.

Defense Department officials put the size of that target group at 32 million. The Army’s recruiting goal for the coming fiscal year is expected to be about 180,000 for its active force, about the same number as the other services’ total combined.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation event Thursday, the Army’s highest-ranking recruiter, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, said, “That’s the lowest pool in a decade.”

The Navy’s goal for Fiscal Year 2017 was 35,200 to meet the projected growth of the fleet. The total is expected to rise to 37,700 when the FY 18 budget is approved.

Ninety percent of all recruits must have a high school diploma; 60 percent must be defined as quality by scoring in the top three categories of the military aptitude tests and less than 4 percent can be in the lowest tier. There are also fitness and weight and moral standards all recruits must meet. The services can and do set standards higher than the Pentagon’s.

Speaking at the Washington an event co-sponsored by Mission: Readiness, Bacon asked, “What happens if we had a national emergency,” requiring the services to draw from the wider pool? “I’m concerned about our reserve structure.”

Bacon said the reasons why so many young people cannot meet recruiting standards is because American “culture slowly changed… and not for the better.”

John Bednarek, with Mission: Readiness and a retired Army lieutenant general, said, “It’s a problem [finding qualified recruits and youth interested in the armed forces] is a getting worse. They’re not eligible to join the military if they wanted to.

“For 80 percent [of American high school students] there is no requirement for physical fitness [instruction] for graduation.” In the lower grades where recess is required, there often are no structured physical fitness programs, he added.

Bednarek and Bacon also pointed to the need to improve basic education in reading and mathematics in elementary schools and put renewed emphasis on teaching citizenship, steps that would benefit not only the armed forces but also the nation as a whole.

Using the oath that recruits take upon enlistment, Bacon said, “Many of our youth don’t know the Constitution” and 27 percent of high school students could not identify a single right under it.

The challenges also range from the prescribed use of anti-depressants to treat youth with mental health concerns to a strong civilian economy, with unemployment rates running at about 4.5 percent.

Bacon said youth and their families often have a skewed picture of the military from television and film, thinking of it solely in combat terms. Snow and others noted only seven percent of the United States’ population are veterans and the armed forces, for the most part, are not stationed in large metropolitan areas so there is little interaction with civilians.

  • NavySubNuke

    Sounds like the first step might be setting up some sort of pre-boot camp for fat kids who can’t pass the selection criteria but aren’t too far gone. Send them off somewhere remote where you can control their diet and exercise and see who can get in shape enough to go to boot camp after 3 – 4 months.
    A few months of actually working out instead of just sitting in their house watching TV and eating junk food and the pounds should slide right off. This would obviously cost money but would make a larger portion of the population eligible to serve.

    • muzzleloader

      A nation can only be as strong as the moral fiber of it’s citizenry. The Roman Empire is a testimony to that. It is ultimatly the parents that are supposed to be doing the things you prescribe. If Uncle Sam has to step into that role in order to have fit to serve recruits, our nation is truly at a sorry place.

      • NavySubNuke

        I would say we are there or well past there. Just ask anyone who works in the public school department of any major city about what the “average” parent is willing/capable of doing and you will likely be shocked.

      • Jonathan Fraser

        Our leaders also set the tone for millions of parents and children.

        MAGA ?

        We once believed to those who much is given (inherited or earned) much is expected.

        Civics, community, society.

        If ours has become a nation of individuals, yes, we are truly lost.

        Each of us has our job, in the mirror. I believe that the wealthiest among us have corrupted our legislators and government to the extent that we will not recover without significantly influentiap leaders standing up now, and all of us individuals and saying, enough.

        • DaSaint

          Well we’re about to get a tax break. Let’s see how that helps fix the situation.

          • Jonathan Fraser

            A tax break is essential for some and an investment is needed, by others. (Read: the wealthiest do need to reinvest as idle property – hoarding – is not productively participating in our economy)

            The 40 years of redistributive tax & other policies have hollowed out and weakened the US economy;

            A digital access age has brought cultural, social issues clashing face first with a looming worldwide economic crisis.

            The FED just began to shrink monetary supply or total currency (The opposite of $4T of QE. We invested in a few foxes, not the chicks, hens, roosters and seeds. )

            Take your sides or recognize that this is not what peace looks like. The US is at war, with itself, until we make We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident great again.

          • Ken Kennard

            I guess you just missed the last financial crash in its entirety….remember 9 years ago? Stock market at 7,500? yeah that.

          • Jonathan Fraser

            Will you clarify your point ?

            Assuming I missed the lesson of the meltdown in 2007-8 … ?

            Inquiry ought to preceed.

            ( I have personal knowledge of some of the differences of opinion, primarily publicly available knowledge, and some, simply internal to the Federal Reserve banking system, 2005-present … so yeah, I was even abit ‘forewarned’ and the QE has definitely inflated the stock market … some claim to its highest, most unstable P/E ratios ever. )

            Again, so we have different conclusions, what is your point ?

    • thebard3

      NavySubNuke – That sounds pretty un-PC, so it probably would never fly. I like the idea, though.

    • NEC338x

      When they get inevitably get injured, can we ensure that the medical care they get ONLY comes through the VA. May as well give them some real-life experience as well to address the gimmies.

      • NavySubNuke

        Just as long as we make any injuries incurred during the pre-boot camp phase exempt for future disability compensation (though they would still be eligible for medical care related to those injuries via the VA) that should work.
        I like the idea of whoever suggested basic remedial course work too — we could have classes on basic life skills they should have learned from their parents but didn’t like changing a flat, filing taxes, etc. as well as things they should have learned in school but didn’t like basic math skills and military history.

        • Bull Jones

          I guess I’m an odd ball. My ONLY healthcare is through the VA (it sucks), and while I’m on disability, it is Social Security. Not a Navy disability. I’ve been told over and over to shoot for a Navy pension, but I can’t bring myself to do it. My issues -as best as I can tell – is not service connected. Yet people INSIDE THE VA are tell in NSC vets to apply for service connected disability.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    It is important to keep a half-good standard for candidates.
    So, if there isn’t a queue out the door with applicants perhaps look at the pay scale.

    In the normal run of things it is a good thing that the youth are able to find employment elsewhere & don’t have to resort to the military….. though as the article outlines, those up to the task in the first place is also dwindling.

    • NEC338x

      This slice of the pool of candidates are also highly sought potential college students. If we believe the College Board numbers from 2015, ~2/3 of college students were doing it with financial aid (including federal grants and backed loan programs.) Like most things in life, follow the money. Give the average 18yo, from the 29% cohort that qualify for service, the choice of doing that or extending their high school experience another four years on borrowed money, is it any surprise the choice that they’re likely to make?

  • stoli5

    There is this cultural malaise and weakness because of fatigue and fear of retribution for going WITH the grain. Obama was able to pretend like he was a big old victim for 8 years, and having a chip on his shoulder because – black. Note how convenient it was for him to play the blame game and pretend he wasn’t half-white while everyone buried their heads and the rest showered him with adulation. The Boy Scouts are the latest to be steamrolled by this creeping rot of “wuss or die”.

  • Hank Wilson

    If the liberals running the schools were concerned about teaching instead of indoctrinating the kids into left wing ideology, they might learn the “3 Rs” like us older folks did. Physical fitness should never have been removed to begin with. I still don’t understand that at all.

    • MLepay

      You can thank Bush for the unfunded mandate of No child Left Behind for a lot of this in recent years because that turned teaching into teaching for the standardized tests instead of critical thinking and useful knowledge which has been a disaster in Indiana.

      • muzzleloader

        It has been a disaster for our whole nation.

      • thebard3

        Wow, I thought we were done blaming everything on George Bush. I guess not. In my city, (Columbus OH) we are spending more money than ever on education. We are replacing 50 year old buildings. The new ones have marble floors, movie theaters and 10000 seat stadiums. The results are abysmal. There’s no accountability on the school board. You can’t attribute that to a 12-year old federal policy.

        • DaSaint

          You can attribute that to your fellow citizens in your community. Your neighbors.
          There’s enough blame to go around, but we have to start thinking smartly. The new buildings you refer to probably cost no more than 20-40 million. What does that get you in the defense budget? That’s a light overhaul on a replenishment ship. That’s a few dozen AMRAAM rounds.

          We’re spending billions on individual ships because we choose to, but we’re going to have problems finding the crews for them. Just like Australia, just like the UK, just like Canada.

          The problems are real, some are social, and none are easy to solve. But the common thread is that people feel they have viable options that do not include the military. Simple as that. Incentivize them with payment of their student loans or higher salaries than the civilian sector, and you’ll have a different pool of candidates, but realize that will cost money. Something will have to give.

          • thebard3

            So the answer is to throw MORE money at the schools? You say it doesn’t amount to much. Let me show you my property tax bill, which is used for school funding. Huge increases in spending, huge decline in quality of school system.

          • DaSaint

            It’s probably the same as mine. But the answer isn’t to cut funding by 50% either, is it? We’ve seen the results. What’s needed is a dose of reality – the reality that we need to have a long term investment strategy for education – as it FEEDS everything else: Defense, The Economy, Technology, etc.

            We can run from the reality and complain, or we can craft a national strategy, just as we craft a national defense strategy, a ballistic missile defense strategy, Star Wars, or whatever. JMO of course.

          • thebard3

            If your property tax is the same as mine, then your education funding hasn’t been CUT by 50%.

          • Bull Jones

            We pay billions for a ship because we’ve been told we must. We give our kids drugs because we’ve been told we must. We build new school building because we’ve been told we must. There are as many things we’ve been told we must not do as well. And most all of these things have been proven wrong over the years.

            One thing I believe, though, is that now that we have federally mandated gender neutrality we should institute a mandatory military service period.

        • muzzleloader

          As the husband of a career educator, my spouse would be the first to say that NCLB was a bad policy for a number of reasons. I was a fan of GWB, but I’m just saying.

        • Ed L

          My brother just outside of Columbus but works in Columbus. Told me about that, he also did a term as a township school board member. They had a couple of people on the board that wanted to follow the city of columbus lead. Which got shot down pretty quick. His kids use to live in Columbus but moved out to Jefferson township gahanna I think. so there kids could go to school there.

    • Danger_Dan

      Hank, The problems are much more complex than going back to the 3-Rs. As the husband of a public high school teacher, and with family members teaching in 3 other states, I can assure you that Phys-Ed is still offered, the pledge of Allegiance is still being said (even in high schools), and liberals are not indoctrinating students. Rather, they are offering a wide range of excellent courses and the vast majority of their students are going on to college (more than ever before in US history), and on to great careers. Most of today’s kids are smart and talented;however, with a few exceptions, they are not the ones that are joining the military–and that’s the rub. This is not the slice of the pie that forms potential military recruits.

      • John Sweeney

        You make a bunch of good points! My youngest son tried to join the military out of college. He has great math and sciences skills and wanted to join up. But he is color blind and none of the services was interested in him. I am thinking that at some point, it might be time to bring back the DRAFT!

    • DaSaint

      You can say that about NY, CA or DC, but that’s not the rest of the country is it? So what happened to the rest of the country?

    • Timmy

      I know, lets insult the citizens of those liberal states who for the most part happen to be on the thin healthy side instead of selling the Navy as a way to serve their county no matter their political affiliation. That’ll get them pouring into the nearest recruiting office….NOT!

    • Brent Leatherman

      Utter twaddle. If I remember correctly, it was Pres. Bush who started the standardized testing (no child left behind) that killed things like PhysEd.

  • Western

    Raise the recruiting age.

    • I ceased to be able to fling my body thru a water tight door about the time I turned 55.

      • Western

        Lol, well, me too. I got out when I was 30, and could probably have done the same job at 40, if they would have let me come back in.

        • Ed L

          at 63 i can still get though a scuttle, i am just a lot slower

    • DaSaint


  • Leatherstocking

    Problems on several fronts….I saw my son spend 2+ hours on a bus each way because it’s cheaper than more buses and/or more local schools. When I taught high school math and science, discipline was absent in the home, the curriculum is dumbed down to cover the failure to teach effectively and there is parental pushback on homework. You cannot learn math (from multiplication tables to calculus) without practice. Restore gym class and sports. I taught my son competitive shooting, supported him in team sports, took him backpacking, taught map and compass and other basic skills. Parents don’t spend time with their children and the parents lack the skills so they can’t teach what they don’t know. If you’re under 30, you probably can’t read or write cursively. It’s a steep decline for our society and I see no public will to fix it. Much like the disasters for the US in 1941-1943, it’ll take a war to fix it if we can survive long enough to turn things around.

    • DaSaint

      Completely agree.

  • NEC338x

    So basically we’ve flipped the number from the WW2 generation when ~30% where 4F. This didn’t happen overnight. I remember back in the 90’s when my daughter’s elementary school did away with recess, ostensibly to make more time for an academically rigorous and socially aware curriculum.

    “4F: physically, mentally or morally unfit for service.”

    • Ed L

      My Dad was orginally classed 4F perforated ear drum in January1942, He had been working since 1939 as a clerk for a construction firm that build a lot of military installations. In late 43 he was called back by the draft board and was allowed to enlist in the Army. By mid 44 he was a 1st Sgt in a Army hospital unit doing paperwork, which ended up in Guam and later Saipan.

  • James Bowen

    I am not sure this is really that big a deal as far as military recruiting is concerned. Part of the purpose of basic training is to physically train enlistees to get them in good physical shape. Perhaps basic training needs to be longer. My experiences in the Navy and elsewhere have taught me to be very skeptical about claims of personnel shortages or a lack of qualified personnel.

  • leroy

    “Rep. Don Bacon …”.

    God help us if this is the same guy who … No, it can’t be!

  • leroy

    In WW-II, they took the fat kids and put them on a zero carb diet for a short period of time (while still PT’ing them). Believe me – the weight came off. Fast!

    Do you think someone was allowed to evade the draft because they were chubsters? No, the DIs got the weight off. Same thing would happen today if we got into a major war and the draft came back. There’d be no free tickets out of doing your required service. Do a variation of this and you’ll get the weight off of a volunteer force.

    PS. Are you fat? Get off the carbs, the sugars – you’ll lose the weight. Lean meat and vegetables only does the trick. No one need be fat. If you are it’s because you aren’t eating right. And make no mistake – sugar is as much a drug as nicotine. Same part of the brain is stimulated as occurs with cocaine use. Why do you think food companies put so much corn fructose in their foods? To get you addicted, and you are. The results aren’t surprising.

  • Catherine Kelso

    Then I am even more proud of no. 1 g-son, a senior at a local small hs, plays in the band, active in worship leading at his church, hs wrestler, who is now finishing up his Marine paperwork. Loves history and government, and is an all around great kid. He has wanted to do this since he was very young and never wavered. I sub teach in several area schools and see all kinds of kids. There are many who would meet the requirements. I think part of the issue is that the military is not always given equal time as a viable and desirable career path. Our local small hs has an honor wall of former students who are serving with their pictures and addresses right in the main hallway.

    • muzzleloader

      ROTC is available in many high schools and usually there is a healthy participation rate. One of my sons is in Naval ROTC and loves it. While it is an elective course, many kids enlist after graduation. They have a leg up as far as adapting to a military culture, plus they come out of basic as E-2s and E-3s.

  • Ed L

    My youngest son (20) is looking to join either the Navy or Coast Guard. I did Navy but worked with the Coast Guard quite a few times. I am hoping he decides on the Coast Guard. All my kids attended reglious oriented schools, where they learn history, geography, science, math, keyboarding, about all religions, etc. Just like I did when I went to public school back in the 60’s. They all played sports all through high school (NO CUT teams) while not everyone started or played. The kids that didn’t play would be the opponents at practices and were allowed to dress. At times when the teams would get ahead getting there butts kicked the coaches would empty the benches. Oh, and the military needs to Stop Up or Out. My daughter a soon to be SNCO, told me She lost a specialist the other week when he could not get promoted. They even tried to get a meritorious promotion. Now she needs to assign two specialists to do the work this guy used to do. He had no NJP’s or any other problems. Just could not manage to get enought promotion points.

  • desertsaltydog

    This is so sad. I served in the Navy 1968-1972 and I learned and saw a lot. As some may recall back then, during the Vietnam war most of my friends joined up right after graduation. It was an honor and a duty. During my younger years in school they taught history, reading, math,penmanship,english,and we also had P.E. classes all the way through high school.It’s pretty damn sad that these days we need a boot camp to get into boot camp.

  • Sons of Liberty

    I’d like to see a “rethink” of Title 10. Corporate America realized it was losing a vast amount of experience when older workers left the work force a long time ago. People are leading very productive lives, both mentally and physically well into their late sixties, early seventies. Sixty-two is not old! If you are still able to pass your PRT, remain in standards and can contribute to the success of the mission you should be able to continue serving. When I was forced to retire due to age, I was in better physical condition than a lot of the Sailors in their 20s (and I dare say most of the Admirals that are allowed to stay until 67!). I can only imagine the amount of experience the services are losing due to this archaic rule.

  • John B. Morgen

    Establish national service for all high school graduates for four years, then place them into the reserves, if the candidates wish to listed in. Or allow them to serve for 20 years+,

  • 1911,M4,M4a1,M16=obsoletepos

    Kick out the obese rural moochers. Expand to recruit to cities where everyone isn’t fat and unfit for service.