The U.S. Army came 15,000 soldiers short of meeting its 2022 recruiting goals, making the year the worst on record since the services switched to an all-volunteer force nearly 50 years ago.

"In the Army's most challenging recruiting year since the start of the all-volunteer force, we will only achieve 75% of our fiscal year 22 recruiting goal," Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in a statement, according to The Associated Press. "The Army will maintain its readiness and meet all our national security requirements. If recruiting challenges persist, we will draw on the Guard and Reserve to augment active-duty forces, and may need to trim our force structure."

The Army bought in 45,000 new soldiers during the 2022 fiscal year, coming up 25% short of the 60,000 goal. While it was the only branch not to meet its goal for the year, the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy all suffered recruiting struggles that forced them to dig into their pool of delayed entry program recruits, which put them behind on their ability to meet 2023 recruiting objectives.

The Marines, a branch that typically enters the new recruiting year with 50% of its recruiting goals for the year already met, enters 2023 having only met roughly 30% of its target. The Air Force, which usually has roughly 25% of its target met when the new fiscal year begins, is down to 10%, a number it shares with the Navy.


U.S. Army Soldiers in training

The Army missed its 2022 recruiting goals by 25%. (U.S. Army)

"Using Air Force lexicon, I would say we're doing a dead stick landing as we come into the end of fiscal '22, and we're going to need to turn around on the first of October and do an afterburner takeoff," Maj. Gen. Edward Thomas, head of the Air Force Recruiting Service, said at a conference last week. "We're going to be starting 2023 in a tougher position than we started 2022."

The shortfall has caused speculation that the military may have to restructure itself and adjust to the reality that its current recruiting goals are not attainable. Leaders will also be force to lean more heavily on National Guard and Reserve troops if recruiting numbers fail to rebound.

The military has faced a tight jobs market, with private employers increasing wages and offering entry-level applicants benefits that were once unique to the military. The services are also struggling to find qualified applicants, with only 23% of the U.S. service-aged populating being able to meet the military's fitness requirements.

Critics have also argued that the military has become "woke" in recent years and that that has contributed to the recruiting struggles, pointing to examples of services offering mandatory diversity and inclusion classes while failing to prepare troops for the realities of combat.


Airman from Shaw Air Force Base works on Air Force aircraft.

The Air Force is only at 10% of its typical recruiting goals entering 2023. (U.S. Air Force)

"How can we ask young men and women who have decided to risk their lives for America, even die for America, to affirm that our country is inherently racist?" former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote for Fox News last week. "How can we ask them to view their brothers and sisters in arms through the narrow prisms of race or gender? The clear and obvious answer is that we cannot – not without putting their lives at risk on the battlefield. A woke military is a weak military. Unfortunately, woke and weak are exactly what our military is becoming under Biden’s leadership."

Meanwhile, the services are embroiled in a legal battle over the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, with thousands of service members in legal limbo while they wait to find out if they will be forced out of the military for noncompliance. 

Military leaders have responded to the crisis by increasing enlistment bonuses and incentives in a bid to attract a larger pool of applicants, but leaders worry that the military may not be able to compete with private-sector employers in the tight labor market. 

U.S. Marines in formation

The U.S. Marines enter 2023 behind on recruiting goals. (iStock)


However, leaders have vowed not to lower standards in an attempt to make up the shortfall.

"We remain committed to maintaining our standards, investing in America's youth, and emphasizing quality over quantity," Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, told the AP.