Our military is struggling to recruit, and President Joe Biden just made it worse.
As threats around the world grow, the pool of people willing and able to serve is rapidly deteriorating. The military must get creative and offer benefits that are not found in other careers to attract the necessary talent. This can include both financial benefits, like signing bonuses, and others such as skill development and credentialing.
This year, every branch of the United States military is struggling to meet recruiting goals. The Army will finish this fiscal year short 20,000 soldiers. At the end of July, the Army had only reached 66% of its recruiting goal for the year. The Navy, only 89%. The Air Force is also several thousand recruits behind but may meet its end goal thanks to some creative accounting.
It takes a special person to serve, in more ways than one. You have to not only be willing but also able. Recent surveys suggest that only 23% of the U.S. population is eligible for service, and only 9% of the population has an initial interest in service. Historically, less than 1% of the population ends up serving.
Traditionally, the strongest and most well-known incentives for military service are the educational benefits, specifically the GI Bill and student loan forgiveness programs. If you walk into any recruiter’s office one of the first things they will sell you on is the military’s ability to pay for school. Already have a degree? Not a problem, the military will pay off those student loans and set you up for long-term financial success.
However, on August 24, the Biden administration announced it would erase up to $20,000 of student loan debt for individuals, inadvertently cutting the military’s legs out from underneath them.
Under the plan, borrowers who make less than $125,000 a year or under $250,000 for couples are eligible for the program. If you compare that to the annual salaries of members of the military, every servicemember up to a Colonel (O-6) with 16 years of service would be eligible for the program based on their basic pay rates.
This presents two hypothetical options to the American public: Commit to a 16+ year career in the military to earn these educational benefits. Or do absolutely nothing, pursue a civilian career, and receive the same benefit. Even the most patriotic Americans can see that’s an easy choice.
Why would someone risk signing a blank check to their country, payable with their life, to earn the same benefits that the Biden administration is handing out for free?
There is no doubt that taking a benefit that was reserved for the military and specific public service careers and expanding it to everyone will have a lasting negative effect. If the military can’t leverage its number one incentive for recruitment, there is no doubt that our recruiting woes will continue.
America should be concerned. Jeopardizing the safety of our homeland to score political points is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
Thankfully, I am not alone in my beliefs. As an Air Force veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, I led nineteen of my colleagues in sending a letter to the President and Secretary of Defense expressing our concerns. We demanded answers on whether the military was consulted in developing the loan forgiveness plan, and what the administration is doing to mitigate the effects on the military and improve the existing programs within the services.
Instead of focusing on handouts, the administration should be encouraging service in our younger generations. I stand ready to work tirelessly to fix this issue. We have no other option because the consequences of failure could prove to be a matter of life and death.
• Pat Fallon is U.S. representative for Texas’s 4th congressional district since 2021. He served the 30th district of the Texas Senate from 2019 to 2021.