Lack of Awareness Largest Barrier to Military Recruiting, Officials Tell House Panel

December 14, 2023 10:30 AM - Updated: December 15, 2023 2:07 PM
Marines and recruits on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., practice close-order drill on July 05, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

The No. 1 challenge facing U.S. military recruiting is the American public’s lack of familiarity with its armed services, the Pentagon’s and services’ civilian personnel leaders testified Wednesday.

At the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing, Franklin Parker, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, said “under 13 percent [of eligible recruits] have a parent that served” in one of the armed services.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), panel chairman, added four out of five recruits have a family member who served. The number of veterans in the population is declining.

Agnes Schaefer, Army assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, also cited the effect of base realignment and closure, especially in the Northeast, on recruiting. There “are huge swaths of the country” in which there is no post and where residents don’t routinely see “a person in uniform walking down the street.”

Parker added, “COVID protocols [that kept schools closed] kept us out of our largest prospective market for two years.” He said that despite the tangible attractiveness of military enlistment, such as offering “stable employment in any economy,” housing, medical care and competitive wages, potential recruits expressed reservations about long deployments and the effect of service on their mental and physical health.

Alex Wagner, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, said those factors, combined with a smaller eligible population and strong economy, have created “a perfect storm” that caused the Army, Navy and Air Force to fail to meet recruiting goals for officers and enlisted in the past year.

“More than half the youth interviewed” about enlisting or seeking a commission have said they were not interested in the military, Ashish Vazirani, acting Pentagon personnel chief, said. He added the services missed their recruiting target by 41,000 last year despite lowering their goals.

All the personnel leaders said their services are adapting to changing generational wants and the services’ needs for different skills in recruiting. They also said their services’ approaches use different means to reach prospective recruits, such as digital, and addressing fitness issues through preenlistment training. Some services have examined other bars to enlistment, such as relaxing restrictions on previous cannabis use.

Schaefer said one lesson the Army has taken away from private business is the need for a professional recruiting staff. She added, “Marine Corps recruiting is a path to leadership,” to make recruiting more attractive to prospective career Marines.

Rep. Jack Bergmann (R-Mich.), a retired Marine lieutenant general, said recruiters’ access to schools more than once a year is important to turning around the numbers. “It’s about lighting the fire” in a young person to say, “I’d like to talk to the recruiter again.”

The hearing was marked by members questioning each other over the effect of Pentagon policies on diversity, equity and inclusion on recruiting. “Wokeness is a problem,” Banks said at one point. Democrats, including ranking member Andy Kim (D-N.J.), objected to having a survey introduced on veterans concerns over politicization of the armed forces and Breitbart news stories on warnings about possible disciplinary action given to service members over attending certain events.

Kim said no panel member had a chance to review the survey before the hearing opened.

At least three Democrats said rehashing claims over the politicization of the armed forces at hearings was the chief reason Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman, and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member, created a quality-of-life panel to deal with core personnel issues.

The panel is to report its findings to the personnel subcommittee for the Fiscal Year 2025 National Defense Authorization bill.


John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox