The American National Guard is having a hard time maintaining its strength, with more members retiring or not reenlisting and fewer new people joining. Currently the Guard is suffering a net loss of 7,500 personnel a year and that number is increasing. Recruiters report that there are fewer recruits because two decades of war are over and the number of times the Guard is called up to deal with local violence or special problems like border control is not appealing. And then there are the 14,000 Guard members threatened with dismissal for refusing to get the covid19 vaccine. The Federal government is demanding it but Guard members are young and very healthy and noted that people in that category rarely suffer from covid19. Currently the dismissal of the 14,000 is on hold, but the 14,000 have had their pay and benefits suspended. This situation is having a negative effect on recruiters and is one more reason not to join the Guard.
The Guard is basically an army organization and each of the fifty states has one. In peacetime they are under the control of the state governor. Because the federal government pays most of the expenses, state guard units can be “federalized” for situations where the active-duty army needs to use its reserves. Most of the time the Guard is mobilized by the governor for some local emergency, usually a national disaster.
The United States has the second largest armed forces in the world, with 1.3 million active-duty troops and 800,000 paid and trained reserves (China has two million active-duty and about 500,000 trained reserves). The “paid and trained” reserves are an important element because these are troops who received the same training as the active-duty personnel but are on active duty only 30 days a year, mainly to keep their training current.
Most nations have “reserves” that count former military personnel who have been in the military recently, often as conscripts, as members of the reserve. These reserve forces are little more than a list of those who served in the last five or ten years and their last known address. These reserves are useful if there is a major war and you need men with some military experience who are easier to train and serve in an active-duty unit.
Many nations with large active-duty forces claim huge “reserves” of men who have been in the military but are not comparable to the more expensive and effective “paid and trained” reserves some nations maintain. Some nations, like Switzerland and Israel, rely more on their large paid and trained reserves than their small active-duty force. The Swiss reservists not only have their uniforms at home, but an assault rifle and ammunition as well. The Swiss reserves are organized into local groups who can get into uniform, grab their rifles and report to prepared fighting positions within hours. In many major wars the Swiss stayed out of, this reserve system discouraged other nations from invading. Swiss and Israeli reservists are also conscripts, with active and service a mandatory obligation.
In the United States the entire military depends on volunteers, including the large reserve force. Most of the troops are in the army. That includes 480,000 active duty and 600,000 reservists. Most (56 percent) of those reservists belong to a unique American organization, the National Guard. This organization traces its origins back to colonial times. This was formally recognized by a 1933 federal law; the Militia Act of 1903 (popularly known as the Dick Act). The main purpose of the Dick Act was to sort out over a century of confusion over the relationship between the state militias (now known as the National Guard) and the federal forces. The 1903 law was the first of many laws hammered out to create the system now in use. But in the last century, not much attention has been paid to the little known "unorganized militia" angle. This force contains every able-bodied adult male who was not a part of the organized militia. The 1903 law legalized the right not to be part of the organized militia, because a 1792 law had mandated that every adult male be part of the militia. The problem was, most men didn't want to be bothered. To deal with this, state governors created two classes of militia; paid (who trained and were armed and organized into units) and unorganized (everyone else.)
The United States eliminated peacetime conscription in the 1970s and has depended on volunteers ever since. This means army recruiters seek men and women to join the active-duty force or the reserves. The army is the largest component of the U.S. military, especially the reserves, and military recruiting centers have recruiters from the army, air force, marines and navy. The army recruiter passes on those seeking to join the National Guard on to a special AGR (Active Guard Reserve) recruiter who can help qualified candidates get into the reserve or National Guard job or, for the National Guard, state they prefer.
The problems the National Guard is having in maintaining its strength are in addition to the problems army recruiters are having finding enough new recruits to maintain the current strength of 1.1 million (480,000 active and 620,000 reserves). The number of active-duty troops will shrink at least 10,000 this year and up to 20,000 next year. The losses are disproportionately hurting the active-duty combat forces. The army blames covid19 on increasing the number of applicants rejected for being overweight, low test scores or drug use. Covid19 closed many high schools for two years and made it difficult to exercise but easy to eat more junk food and spend more time on the Internet. Not mentioned are the many desirable young people who do not even consider enlisting because of the military’s new social justice regulations and lectures.
The U.S. military has had to cope with a lot of recruiting problems over the last few years. These include financial, suitability, leadership, communications, morale, political and ideological difficulties. Recruiters were coping, and meeting their quotas for enough new recruits to replace losses due to retirement, casualties, illness or not-reenlisting. In 2022 the recruiters are having their worst year ever. Each Recruiting Location has annual and monthly quotas for each service (army, navy, air force and marines) based on past performance. Recruits are easier to find in some parts of the country and this is reflected in the quotas. So far in 2022 monthly quotas are not being met by a large margin. It’s worse for the army, which is attracting less than half the recruits the Department of Defense analysts expected. The senior military leadership proposed offering record-high bonuses (up to $50,000) for eligible recruits. Polls indicate this will not have much impact on the current situation.
Many recruiters already realized that recruits were going to be difficult to find this year, something that was largely ignored inside the Department of Defense. Unlike Pentagon analysts, the recruiters are constantly in touch with potential recruits as well as veterans’ groups. This provides recruiters with real-time exposure to attitudes of potential recruits. Veterans, especially recent ones, provide personal experience with family and friends about current conditions in the military. Currently the news is bad, and older veterans, including the few still around from World War II, comment that the current military is not the one that fought and won battles in the past.
The major problem is political demands. Congress makes the laws and the military follows them. The military has been all-volunteer since the 1970s so military service is not mandatory. If potential recruits, especially those influenced by word-of-mouth, are put off by current conditions, they don’t volunteer, and this has been the principal reason for the recent nose-dive in recruiting. It applies to officers as well as enlisted troops and the reserves as well. Most recruiting is actually driven by favorable reports from veterans, and recently those have been negative due both to the collapse of Afghanistan and the military leadership giving in to political correctness. The current situation is worse because the current president and Congress have the lowest approval ratings in history. The approval levels are lowest in regions which usually provide a disproportionate number of volunteers for military service. In the next two years there will be elections for a new president and members of Congress. That is expected to help with recruiting but only after the word-of-mouth turns around and that will take another year or two, if it happens. In the meantime, recruiters are under increasing pressure to find recruits. As in the past, this is producing more burnout for recruiters. Recruiting is already seen as a hardship assignment and eligible NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) avoid it any way they can. Some leave the military by not reenlisting.