The Army National Guard is behind on its recruiting goals for this year but is bringing more people into the ranks compared to last year, the worst recruiting year since the military went to an all-volunteer force.
The service component has come up about 10% short of its goals on recruits for each month between October and February, according to internal documents reviewed by Military.com. That's a big improvement compared to the same time frame last year in which the Army Guard came up 40% short, on average. October is the start of the military's fiscal year.
"We've seen a steady increase in our recruiting abilities," Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the National Guard's top officer, told lawmakers at a hearing last week. "The Army National Guard is on the path to meet our end strength by the end of the year. I am not declaring victory; I am saying that, right now, all of the trends are very positive."
In March, the Army National Guard exceeded its recruiting goal by 200, bringing in 3,206 new troops. Hokanson told lawmakers that the service component has exceeded recruiting goals in April and May as well, though the data Military.com obtained did not have those numbers.
But the numbers paint a complicated picture. The Guard is aiming for a smaller end strength. Last year, it was authorized to have 336,000 soldiers, and that was reduced by 11,000 this year. Thus, the recruiting goals were also reduced.
In December, for example, the National Guard recruited 2,308 new soldiers, missing its goal of 2,697. That same month the previous fiscal year, the Guard recruited 1,965 soldiers with a goal of 3,358. Between October and March, the Guard recruited 445 more soldiers on average each month, compared to the same time frame last fiscal year.
The Army National Guard's upswing is likely indicative of its active-duty counterpart, which came up 15,000 soldiers short of its goal of recruiting 60,000 new troops last year. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told Congress on multiple occasions that, while the Army as a whole will not meet its recruiting goals this year, it has made progress compared to last year's uniquely grim performance courting Gen Z.
Military.com asked the Army for two months to provide data on its recruiting performance, but officials refused to offer any numbers. The National Guard did not dispute this reporting but declined to comment.
The recruiting slump is due to a culmination of factors as the services struggle to pitch enlistment to a skeptical new generation and to an ever-shrinking pool of eligible young Americans. An internal Defense Department study found that Gen Z members are less inclined to want to leave their hometowns and believe service has an inherent risk of death. Media attention on suicide and sexual assault in the services has also likely played a role in recruiting prospects.
Army officials have estimated that only 23% of young Americans are eligible to enlist or commission, mostly due to poor performance on the SAT-style entrance exam, and an obesity crisis making too many potential applicants too overweight to serve. Last year, the Army started pre-basic training courses for applicants who come up short on the entrance test or are slightly above the body fat standards.
Those courses allow applicants to come into compliance with the Army's standards in 90 days and move on to basic training. Service officials have touted the early success of those programs, with the overwhelming majority of applicants being able to join the Army. Those pre-basic courses have the capacity to graduate 12,000 soldiers into boot camp, who otherwise wouldn't have been able to enlist. The Navy also started a similar program.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.