The U.S. Army is on track to have its worst recruiting year since Vietnam – a shortfall that could have implications for decades.
"This could potentially be multi-generational in terms of its impact. Young recruits today, become our young and senior leaders of tomorrow. So if you can't develop them today, you have a gap in leadership tomorrow," Col. Matthew Amidon, Director of Veterans and Military Families at the George W. Bush Institute, told CBN News.
Right now, the Army has only reached about 52 percent of its recruiting goal for the current fiscal year, which ends later this month. Other military branches are closer to their targets, although attracting and retaining talent is a challenge across the board.
"We've reduced our pilot shortage by 250 airmen, yet we still have over 1,600 pilot vacancies," Gen. David Allvin, USAF, told lawmakers during a recent military readiness hearing.
Military leaders say many factors contribute to the shortage: the pandemic, the labor market, and even competition from the private sector. The biggest problem, however, is a shrinking recruitment pool. Of the age-eligible population, less than a quarter are even qualified to serve.
"That has to do with criminality, can't necessarily pass the initial intake test, and or mental health conditions, things like that, and obesity and physicality," Col. Amidon said.
"I believe, as a culture, we need to get back to a society of service. I think we need to look at national service, you don't have to be in uniform to serve, you can be in inner city tutoring, national parks, oral medicine, but how do we get our youngest folks, frankly, off the couch? Off the video games and out serving each other and learning those life skills of teamwork, discipline, followership, leadership," questioned 26-year Army veteran, Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL).
Rep. Waltz believes stronger leadership is needed from the Pentagon, pointing to issues such as vaccine mandates.
"The National Guard is on the verge of potentially kicking out, discharging, 20 to 25,000 National Guardsmen and women who have concerns about the vaccine, and look, I get the notion of a soldier is given an order, they have to follow the order. But also, as leaders, we have to constantly reevaluate our orders, and do they still make sense," Waltz told CBN News.
Col. Amidon says all sectors working together are needed to solve this recruitment crisis.
"This is not just the Department of Defense challenge. This is the Veterans Affairs challenge, this is a community of philanthropy and nonprofit, and the corporate sector challenge as well. Everybody needs a seat at the table because really, at the core, what you are doing is, by raising your right-hand maintaining and advancing our democracy," Amidon said.
Congressman Waltz pointed out that the Biden administration student debt relief program could be another blow to military recruiting efforts. Historically, one major reward for serving has been the incentive of free education through the G.I. Bill. Waltz says that's not nearly as incentivizing if the government is putting people through college.