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The Military Depends on Virtues that Are Fading


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The US military is facing a recruitment crisis. It is so severe that in September, Senator Thom Thillis referred to an “inflection point” for the voluntary-force model, threatening over a half century of precedent. In 2022, the Army failed to meet its recruitment goals across the board: active duty, reserves, and National Guard were thousands of personnel below target. The Navy met its recruiting quota for enlisted personnel, but not for officers. The Air Force met its recruiting quota for active duty, but not the reserves or National Guard. The Marine Corps barely hit its targets for active duty and reserves.

There are a few theories about the causes of this recruiting predicament, which is at its worse since the post-Vietnam era. Direct causes might be record-low unemployment rates, COVID-era restrictions that limited recruiters’ access to the public, and an increase in both mental and physical health problems among young people. The Public Interest Fellowship’s Garrett Exner, a former Marines special operations officer, points to cultural shifts in American schooling, such as lower standards and refusal to subject students to any kind of adversity. Stuart Scheller, the outspoken Marine veteran and author, blames poor military leadership and misdirected shifts in financial incentives for servicemen.

While these hypotheses probably have some degree of truth, they do not explain why some services are better at recruiting than others: the Marine Corps, after all, made all its quotas, while the Army didn’t meet any of its recruiting goals. The Marine Corps’s success is surprising for many reasons: it has the highest physical fitness standards for retention—significantly higher than that of the Navy and Air Force, and a reputation for physical and psychological duress that eclipses the other services. Moreover, the military occupational specialties (career specialties) available to Marine recruits is dwarfed by the Army’s, which casts the widest net for competencies among the services. At a time when obesity alone prohibits a shocking percentage of American young people from serving, the Marine Corps’s recruiting performance is especially puzzling.:snip:

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