The Looming National Security Crisis
Young Americans Unable to Serve in the Military
Greater numbers of Americans could be available if the military lowered its standards, but this would also arguably put the nation’s defense at risk since the caliber among service members would be reduced, harming a qualitative factor that has always represented a competitive advantage of the U.S. military. Reinforcing this point, the Army’s current Recruiting commander, Major General Jeffrey Snow, said: “We don’t want to sacrifice quality. If we lower the quality, yes we might be able to make our mission, but that’s not good for the organization. The American public has come to expect a qualified Army that can defend the nation.” He adds, “I don’t think the American public would like us to lower the quality of those joining the Army if they knew it’s going to impact our ability to perform the very functions our nation expects us to do.”
According to 2017 Pentagon data, 71 percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the United States military." Put another way: Over 24 million of the 34 million people of that age group cannot join the armed forces—even if they wanted to. This is an alarming situation which threatens the country’s fundamental national security. If only 29 percent of the nation’s young adults are even qualified to serve, and these negative trends continue, it is inevitable that the U.S. military will suffer from a lack of manpower.
The military depends on a constant flow of volunteers every year to meet its requirements, and as the number of eligible Americans declines, it will be increasingly difficult to meet the needs. This is not a distant problem to address decades from now. The U.S. military is already having a hard time attracting enough qualified volunteers. Of the four services, the Army has the greatest annual need. The Army anticipates problems with meeting its 2018 goal to enlist 80,000 qualified volunteers, even with increased bonuses and incentives.
Even more than on planes, ships, and tanks, the military depends on ready and willing American volunteers to protect this nation. In a recent panel discussion on this looming crisis, Army Major General Malcolm Frost, the commander of the Army’s Initial Military Training Command said, “I would argue that the next existential threat we have…is the inability to man our military.” In 2009, a group of retired U.S. generals and admirals formed a nonprofit group “Mission: Readiness” to draw attention to this growing problem. In their report “Ready, Willing, and Unable to Serve,”they report that the main causes of this situation are inadequate education, criminality, and obesity. Unchecked, the combined effect of these three conditions will continue to decrease the number of young adults eligible to serve in the United States military.
The issue of growing ineligibility for military service among America’s youth must be a national priority. The former commander of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Major General Mark Brilakis, says, “There are 30 some million 17- to 24 year-olds out there, but by the time you get all the way down to those that are qualified, you’re down to less than a million young Americans.” A manpower shortage in the United States military directly compromises national security. America needs a strong military to defend its national interests, and that military depends on qualified volunteers. As the most recent U.S. National Security Strategy makes clear, the “United States faces an extraordinarily dangerous world, filled with a wide range of threats that have intensified in recent years.”
This same sentiment applies to the other branches as well. “This is not just an Army problem,” seconds retired Lieutenant General John Bednarek, “It’s not even a joint problem of all the services. This is a national issue tied to the security of the United States of America.” Thus, the remedy to this national dilemma must be to address those staggering numbers who do not qualify, and put in place programs to reverse these trends.