Army ‘feeling a lot better’ with recruiting this year, Wormuth says
(U.S. Army Recruiting Command)

Army ‘feeling a lot better’ with recruiting this year, Wormuth says

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told House lawmakers on Wednesday that her service is “feeling a lot better” about recruiting this year after missing its goal for new soldiers for two consecutive years.

“I don’t want to be overconfident,” the Army’s top civilian told members of the House’s defense appropriations subpanel while testifying alongside Gen. Randy George, the Army’s chief of staff. “But I think we both feel that we have a good shot at making that goal this year, which I think would be very, very important.”

That goal, she added, is to ship 55,000 new recruits to Army basic training by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2024, and fill its delayed-entry coffers with another 5,000 recruits who would move to initial entrance training later.

Meeting that basic recruiting goal would match the Army’s enlistment efforts from fiscal 2023, when it sent about 55,000 recruits to initial military training, falling about 10,000 short of its goal of 65,000. But that was an improvement from fiscal 2022, when the Army shipped fewer than 45,000 new recruits to basic training, falling 15,000 short of its goal.

Pentagon officials have noted in recent years that the military recruiting environment is among the worst in U.S. history. Only about 23% of Americans between the ages of 17 to 24 qualify for military service, fewer than previous generations, according to Defense Department data. Among them, only about 9% has shown interest in the military, the data shows.

To counter the problem, the Army has launched myriad of new recruiting programs aimed at beefing up and professionalizing its recruiting force. Wormuth said Wednesday that the service has begun one of those newer efforts to build a corps of permanent enlisted and warrant officer recruiters in lieu of soldiers temporarily taking recruiting assignments.

The first tranche of soldiers who will train to work in those new specialties have been selected and will complete their training and reach recruiting stations by the end of summer, she said.

“We’re picking soldiers that are a little bit more inclined to be good salespeople for the United States Army,” Wormuth said, noting the recruiting course is also getting longer and more difficult. “So, we’ve really updated that and again, I think that’s helped our recruiters be more effective in the field.”

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said he was worried outside factors could impact military recruiting. His home state, he noted, adopted a $20 minimum wage for fast food workers this month — a pay rate more than double what the most junior troops make early in their careers.

“We’re competing from a recruitment perspective with fast food workers, right, and those guys aren’t putting their lives on the line every day like our soldiers are,” said Garcia, a former Navy pilot. “Right now if you’ve asked an 18-year-old if he wants to go work at the In-N-Out [Burger] for $22 an hour or join the Army for the equivalent of $12 an hour, you’re going to get 95% of them going to In-N-Out even if they love the country, even if they want to serve — they just can’t afford to go join the Army right now. And that’s a fundamental problem.”

Garcia proposed Congress adopt a bill to bolster pay for junior troops in the ranks of E-1 to E-6, starting service members at about $31,000 per year in basic pay. A similar measure was included in the House version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that sets lawmakers’ spending and policy priorities for the Pentagon. But the measure did not make the final NDAA that passed in December.

Garcia asked for Wormuth’s help in pushing for the measure to become law later this year.

“We need help on this,” he said. “We need more pull from the secretaries, we need more pull, frankly, from the president in prioritizing this pay gap right now. … There’s other things driving the recruiting problems … but the pay is significant.”