Military recruitment down as fewer young Americans enlist, are qualified to serve

Posted at 5:50 AM, Nov 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-11 08:26:01-05

For many who join the armed services it's a chance to serve their country, enjoy decent benefits, and in some cases even see the world.

But right now as we mark Veteran's Day, the U.S. Military is facing a problem; not enough people are signing up.

It was a concern that took the spotlight in late September during a Senate Committee hearing.

“By the end of 2022, the active U.S. military will be at its smallest size since the creation of the all volunteer force," warned Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

To explore this recruitment challenge, Action News reached out to metro Detroiters who are currently serving.

Antonio Andrews is a Sgt. First Class in the Army Reserves, however right now he's on active duty.

We spoke with him from Fort Bliss, Texas.

ANTONIO 3.jpeg
Sgt. First Class Antonio Andrews

“I’ve been in 36 years. Straight out of high school," he told Action News.

Andrews, who is from Livonia, comes from a military family. At 18, he personally felt a real calling to enlist.

“I wanted to do my part," he said.

Andrews enjoyed the educational and financial benefits of the military, but said it wasn't top of mind at the time. As a young man, he said the promise of adventure of part of the draw of service, in addition to serving his nation.

He still remembers the recruitment video he saw before signing up.

“Music was playing the guys was running up not he tanks and throwing grenades and shooting off weapons and I was like sign me up. I’m ready," he said.

The U.S. Military, the Army most of all, is struggling to recruit right now.

During the Senate hearing on Sept. 21 Army leadership warned that just 23 percent of Americans 17-24 are even qualified to serve.

“The top disqualifiers for service are obesity, addiction, conduct, test scores, medical and behavioral health conditions," Lt. Gen. Douglass Stitt of the U.S. Army told senators.

Data from the Department of Defense provided to Action News shows that as of Aug. 2022 the Army was on track to be short of its enlistment goal by around 15,000 soldiers.

For both fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Army surpassed it's recruitment goals:

FY20: Goal: 61,200 Attained: 61,253
FY 21: Goal: 57,500 Attained: 57,606

Part of the reason for this struggle now, according to lawmakers and defense officials, is low unemployment, a strong job market, and increasingly competitive benefits in the private sector.

We checked in with area ROTC programs to see if they too are feeling new challenges to recruitment efforts.

Michigan State's ROTC program, which unlike traditional Army recruitment produces officers who train while getting their degrees, reports its numbers are solid.

“Our program is growing," said recruitment operations officer Robert Sullivan.

And that was even due to a slight dip during the pandemic. Around 200 students are enrolled currently.

"We’re the largest program in Michigan currently," Sullivan said.

The program has offered Cadet Kirsten Hickman a chance to serve her country while also working toward her personal career goals of helping animals. She's a senior, and has been granted an education delay through the Army to continue schooling before her post-college military service begins.

MSU ROTC Cadet Kirsten Hickman

“It gives people a home, it gives people a purpose. And going as an officer, you’re committing to a career in it," she said.

During her undergraduate education she participated in a mixture of tactical training and traditional coursework. She'll complete eight years of military service upon graduation, but first she'll get her Doctorate.

“And I’m able to use that to do what I ultimately want to do which is humanitarian relief, which the Army Corps of Veterinarians really had a big part in,'" Hickman said.

She told Action News the decision to join ROTC was the right one for her, and she sees it only propelling her in the future.

Andrews also said he wouldn't change enlisting. Unlike Hickman, he joined right out of high school. He hopes more young people consider enlisting, and suggests those who are curious talk to people they already know who are also serving.

“Don’t think what you think it is, find out," he said.

***Note: Updated data provided by the U.S. Army after the deadline for this story shows that the Army ultimately has a 10,000 solider shortfall for the fiscal year 2022, which ended in late September. The Army was able to recruit 75% of its goal.

They released the following statement to 7 Action News:

"We don’t expect this shortfall to negatively impact our ability to fulfill our requirements as outlined in the current National Defense Strategy, but this is a stark reminder that maintaining our all-volunteer force is not a given. We continue to consider and develop options that allow us to demonstrate to qualified young people how Army service can contribute to their personal and professional goals. For those on the fence about serving, we invite them to join us and see why so many Soldiers decide to stay in the Army."