- - Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The military has a recruiting crisis that threatens our national security, and the problem must be addressed now. President Biden, as our commander-in-chief, needs to use his bully pulpit to call every American’s attention to this issue. Our services are struggling to meet recruiting goals like never before. If this problem is not fixed, the readiness of our military, along with the safety of our country and the all-volunteer force, will be in jeopardy.

To illustrate the seriousness of the issue, the Army missed its 2022 recruiting goal by 15,000 soldiers—a 25% shortfall. The Navy a few days ago announced that it was extending the age of potential recruits to 41.

The challenges facing military recruiters have been well documented. Of the 32 million young Americans who are age-eligible for service, only 9.1 million meet the initial requirements. The pool is further reduced by those who have police records, drug/substance abuse or are obese. Those factors combine to shrink the initial 32 million to 465,000 attractive recruits, many of whom will look for opportunities in the private sector. Army data showed that up to 70% of potential recruits are disqualified in the first 48 hours due to obesity, low test scores or drug use.

Our current servicemembers serve in units that are already undermanned and overstretched. Because of an inability to recruit, the Defense Department has reduced manning numbers. This equates to asking those currently serving to do more with less which leads to morale problems.

Adding to the challenge is the propensity to serve. When young people are asked, “How likely is it that you will serve in the military?” only 11% responded, “definitely or positively.” The situation is not helped when 52% of parents do not recommend military service to their offspring.

This is where the president must step in and call every American’s attention to the need for ‘selfless service’ to our nation. It’s time for every American to realize the importance of this term and realize that it made our country the one it is. ‘Selfless service’ also translates to duty, honor and country—patriotism. Patriotism seems to be a quality that has become somewhat diminished in our nation’s current fabric.

Our country would be well-served by the president, especially this Veterans Day and during the month of November which he has proclaimed National Veterans and Military Families Month, to urge young people to consider military service through a national address. Drawing from the famous John F. Kennedy quote—“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”—would be most appropriate.

In fact, the president should challenge every veteran in Congress—especially those recently elected, Democrat and Republican—to join him in this effort. Service to our nation is not a partisan issue, so it’s time for every political leader to put the heavy rhetoric aside. This is not the time for divisive speeches. Concomitantly, our nation’s veterans should use every opportunity to engage young people and tout the advantages military service provided them.

The rewards of military service are infinite—being provided outstanding training in a whole range of fields, learning countless skills, being given responsibilities never imagined at a young age, developing lifelong leadership skills, traveling, and developing friendships that last forever. Signing on does not mean a 20 or 30-year career. For some, it just so happens that way.

Personally, I enlisted in the Navy to serve my country in 1969, do a four-year term and return to civilian life. But from my first day in boot camp, I was blessed with leaders and mentors who allowed me to grow, develop a variety of skills, learn the importance of leadership and see the importance of placing the welfare of my nation and my shipmates before my own—all while being proud of the uniform I wore. My family and I treasure the 31 years we spent in the Navy.

This is a defining moment for our country. It should also come as no surprise that China, Russia and Iran see our problems and are thinking about how they can leverage them to their advantage. Our president needs to lead the way in coming to grips with the military recruiting problem, and he needs to do it now.

• Tom Jurkowsky is a retired Navy rear admiral who served 31 years on active duty. He is a Military Officers Association of America board member and the author of “The Secret Sauce for Organizational Success: Communications and Leadership on the Same Page.” The views expressed are his own.

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