To mark the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Fort Meade, Maryland by Black Hawk helicopter on Wednesday to administer the military oath of office to 85 brave young men and women. 67 of these new recruits shipped out to basic training just hours after the ceremony, leaving for bases all across the country, including Parris Island, South Carolina and Fort Moore, Georgia.
"Fifty years ago this week, the United States stopped drafting citizens into service and turned instead to an all-volunteer force," Secretary Austin told the recruits. "Ever since then, Americans like you have joined our military, out of conviction and not out of compulsion."
Secretary Austin shook each recruit's hand, sharing words with each one of them.
Secretary Austin's visit comes as the U.S. military continues to face a recruiting crisis, resulting from the robust job market, the end of wars overseas and high rates of PTSD. Recruiters did not have access to college campuses or high schools during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, losing crucial face to face time with potential recruits.
College has also become a more popular option for high school graduates, with 62% of high school seniors pushed to go directly to college. Another reason for low recruitment numbers is the perception among some that the military has gone "woke." The nation is also facing a health crisis among young people with 77 percent of America's youth not eligible to serve, according to a Pentagon study.
A recent WSJ article outlined another alarming trend: the children of military families, who typically make up 80 percent of US Army recruits, are telling their children not to serve, especially those from the South.
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The Army, Air Force and Navy are on track to miss recruiting goals this year. The U.S. military has typically met annual recruitment goals since 1973. The U.S. Army missed its recruiting goals by 25% last year.
After 9/11, recruiting increased due to the wave of patriotism that swept the nation. This year the Army is expected to end up 15,000 recruits short of its 65,000 goal. Meanwhile, U.S. military chiefs say that retention has never been higher, but continue to express concerned that if recruiting numbers don't improve the U.S. will not be able to face the next Great Power threat, or deal with two conflicts at the same time; Russia and China.
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Getting young men and women like the ones Secretary Austin met on Wednesday is crucial to protecting U.S. interests. "We rely on you, our democracy relies on you, and your country relies on you," Austin told the recruits before they shipped off for basic training.