It has recently been revealed that the US Army is about 6,500 recruits short of its annual target of 76,500 for this year, despite providing an extra $200 million in bonuses and allowing some additional waivers for bad conduct or health issues. This is the first time the Army has missed its recruitment target for a decade or more and it is confirmation of fears that have been expressed for a while that modern demographic trends would lead to problems. Indeed, by 2012 it was reported that only one in four persons in the United States of the relevant age met the “moral, academic and physical standards for military service”.
The recruitment base for the all-volunteer US Army consists mainly of young adults between the ages of 17 and 24. However, of the 34 million people in that group, it is now reckoned that about 70% are basically incapable of, or ineligible for, service. That leaves only about 10 million from whom the annual recruiting targets might be met.
Of the 24 million who cannot be accepted into service, almost 60% are reckoned to be in a state of very poor health and fitness, which has been attributed in large part to obesity. According to a senior US researcher working in the defence sector: “It (obesity) has really picked up in the last ten years, Americans have just become much more obese and overweight. About ten years ago, there were only two states where a third of Americans were obese. Now there are thirty states where a third of the people are obese.”
In an attempt to target those who might be assumed to be both fit and motivated, recruiters are visiting specialist sports centres and competitive sports venues, as well as certain sorts of computer games followers. Recruiters are being sent to CrossFit sports competitions and popular gaming contests like Ultimate Fighter, Madden Football and addictive Fortnite: Battle Royale, an online survival game. The aim is for the recruiters to be able to talk to gamers and sports-enthusiasts on “their own turf”, and, wherever possible, in army uniform in order to bridge the perceived gap between their civilian life and the Services.
Other problems include very poor levels of education as well as involvement in serious crime. About 25% cannot join as they do not have a high-school education which is a requirement for military service. 10% are barred due to having a criminal record. In 2015 some one million juveniles were arrested, for example, and even a juvenile criminal record can make you ineligible for service.
Other problems include the increasing competition from civilian employment. As the US continues to recover from the lean years following the 2008 crash, companies are looking for more people to take on and “stealing” from the pool available to the Forces. However, the Army is determined not to reduce its standards merely to make up the numbers. In modern forces the requirement for people to operate increasingly complex weapons systems and other equipment, often working on their own or under only partial supervision, means that the days of providing a “refuge” for people who might be unemployable elsewhere are over.
Paradoxically, the current successes of his domestic economic policies are likely to make it more difficult for Mr Trump to carry out his planned expansion of the US Forces. Under present proposals, it is hoped to expand it from its current 471,000 to half a million by 2025. However, as technology starts to affect more and more of its capabilities, some view it as being inevitable that people with skills such as IT-management or remote weapons and surveillance operations will be accepted on the basis that they will never be required to engage in ground- combat or other forms of physical exertion.