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Michael R. Bloomberg

Military Recruitment Woes Endanger National Security

The US is facing a shortfall of troops. Here’s how to solve the problem.

Little help?

Little help?

Photographer: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

From the Suwalki Gap to the Taiwan Strait, the US military faces no shortage of potential crises. But perhaps its biggest challenge lies close to home: A dwindling number of Americans are able and willing to serve in uniform. To maintain the military’s edge, the Pentagon needs to rethink how it recruits and retains troops — while also preparing to fight future wars with a leaner active-duty force.

On current trends, the outlook is troubling. To meet its overall goal of an active-duty force of 1.3 million, the military needs to bring in roughly 150,000 new recruits across its six service branches. With two months left in the fiscal year, the Pentagon is still 15% short of that goal, with the largest service, the Army, facing the biggest shortfall. Through the end of June, the Army had signed up 22,000 troops, 60% below its annual target. It could end the year with as few as 445,000 troops, nearly 40,000 smaller than the force size authorized by Congress.