The Army has so far only recruited about half the soldiers it hoped for fiscal 2022, Army secretary says

With weeks left in the fiscal year, Secy. Wormuth said the Army has recruited about 52% of its goal and will likely wind up short by as many as 15,000 recruits.
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With about 7 weeks left in the fiscal year, the U.S. Army has only recruited about half the number of soldiers it set as its yearly goal.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the Army has recruited about 52% of its goal for FY22 and will likely wind up short by as many as 15,000 recruits.

“We are right now at about 52% of the mission that we had originally set for ourselves. So we’ve got a ways to go and obviously we’ve only got about a month or so until the fiscal year ends,” Wormuth said. “I would say we’re [going to be] about 12,00 to 15,000 recruits short this year.”

The goal was to have 60,000 active duty enlistments this fiscal year. While the Army has already said publicly it expects to be short of its overall goal, Wormuth's comments show how significant the shortfall might be. It will have to add more than 10,000 recruits before the end of September just to meet her downsized projection.

The Army is authorized to have as many as 485,000 troops for FY22, but it recently lowered that number to 476,000. Wormuth said that retention of existing service members remains high, which is helping with end strength overall, but if this recruiting shortage continues over time it could present a readiness issue for the U.S military.

A shrinking pool of possible recruits

NBC News was first to report in June that every branch of  the U.S. military  was struggling to meet its fiscal year 2022 recruiting goals, according to multiple U.S. military and defense officials. Numbers obtained by NBC News showed both a record low percentage of young Americans eligible to serve and an even tinier fraction willing to consider it.

The pool of those eligible to join the military continues to shrink, with more young men and women than ever disqualified for obesity, drug use or criminal records. In May, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville testified before Congress that only 23% of Americans ages 17-24 are qualified to serve without a waiver to join, down from 29% in recent years.

An internal Defense Department survey obtained by NBC News found that only 9% of those young Americans eligible to serve in the military had any inclination to do so, the lowest number since 2007.

More than half of the young Americans who answered the survey — about 57% — think they would have emotional or psychological problems after serving in the military. Nearly half think they would have physical problems.

“They think they’re going to be physically or emotionally broken after serving,” said one senior U.S. military official familiar with the recruiting issues, who believes a lack of familiarity with military service contributes to that perception.

Among Americans surveyed by the Pentagon who were in the target age range for recruiting, only 13% had parents who had served in the military, down from approximately 40% in 1995. The military considers parents one of the biggest influencers for service.

An expert on military personnel policy says that middle class parents, including those who are newly middle class, often encourage their kids to go to college before selecting a career, which hurts recruiting for enlisted personnel. “Changing the mind of parents is the really tough part, particularly if these are parents who worked really hard for their children to go to college,” said Kate Kuzminski from the Center for a New American Security. She noted that recruiting ads increasingly target the parents of potential recruits. “That’s where they’re trying to win the hearts and minds.”

Courtney Kube

Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Mosheh Gains is a Pentagon producer for NBC News.