Recruiting soldiers

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 12th of February, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: the future of the U.S. military’s volunteer force.

Just under 1.3 million Americans serve in the U.S. military. In a country of 325 million, that’s about third of a percent. Still, to maintain that number of troops, the armed forces need about 200,000 new recruits every year. But military leaders increasingly say the armed forces won’t be able to maintain their quotas in the coming years.

REICHARD: Last month, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service submitted its interim report to Congress. It revealed the commission’s struggle to find ways the government can inspire and prepare a new generation to serve their country in uniform. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg brings us this report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Nearly three-quarters of young Americans aren’t eligible to serve in the armed forces. That dwindling pool of recruits has military leaders worried.

Emma Moore is a military researcher at the Center for a New American Security. She says expanding waistlines are the biggest culprit behind the shrinking number of recruits. Young people between 17 and 24 have higher obesity rates than any other generation. But there are other issues as well.

MOORE: Other medical issues, lack of sufficient education or other complicating factors like having a tattoo in the wrong place.

The military also has a hard time competing in a tight job market.

MOORE: The military also struggles when the economy is doing really well, especially in specific job categories like pilots or people who might be able to earn a better living in the civilian sector when the economy is very strong.

With these numbers in mind, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is exploring ways to attract more of the young people who are eligible to serve.

One idea the commission has considered making public service a requirement. Young people could choose how to fulfill that service mandate and some would probably choose the military.

Rebecca Burgess manages the program on American citizenship at the American Enterprise Institute. She says the U-S military’s strength is its all-volunteer makeup.

BURGESS: Service, when it becomes mandatory, has deleterious effects on how the individuals are viewed and view government. I think that it’s when government gets out of the way that people are happier about doing service.

But others disagree. Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee served in the Coast Guard for 36 years before retiring in 20-16. He says forced service, especially in the military, would be good for a generation that takes freedom for granted.

LEE: Not everybody’s cut out for the military, but Peace Corps, those kinds of things, mission-related work. Every young man or woman in the 18- to 20-year-old age range would benefit significantly by seeing how the rest of the world lives where they will see firsthand that others on this planet don’t have life nearly as good as we do. And what we have here is precious, and we need to protect it.

The commission also wants to improve knowledge about the military. Today many Americans don’t personally know a veteran. Emma Moore with the Center for a New American Security says that means the military must do a better job educating everyone about its opportunities.

MOORE: Influencers—which are grandparents, parents, other adults in the young person’s life—are often the reason people are either turned away from considering service, because they’re encouraged to go to college, or parents are worried about PTSD and other injuries that could result, which are often misconceptions. So actually addressing influencers and their concerns and also dispelling those myths more generally in society are the two major things that the military can do in order to support greater interest in service.

Finally, the federal commission is exploring whether or not to require women to register for the draft. Today, the U-S only requires young men ages 18 to 25 to add their names to the Selective Service System.

Those against the move argue the physical differences between men and women would make it impractical to draft women into combat roles. But supporters like Emma Moore note adding women to the system could provide a long-term solution to recruiting shortages.

MOORE: I think ultimately the military and the Army in particular needs to look at developing consistent interest in serving in the military, and one of the ways to do that is to look to the entire population which includes women.

Robert Allen is an Air Force ROTC chaplain at Clemson University. He says the commission should talk about the importance of spiritual resources in the military. By allowing chaplains as well as military ministries to flourish, Allen says more young people looking for career and spiritual purpose could find both in uniform.

ALLEN: We really do spend a bunch of time on that self-awareness piece and gifting idea. And then we give them opportunities to serve on teams utilizing them specifically to their gifting. I think faith and military ministries could actually be the start of a new paradigm, a new application of the gospel truths that we’ve known forever.

The commission’s final report is due in 2020. Until then, it plans to hold public hearings on its recommendations around the country.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(AP Photo/Alik Keplicz, File) In this Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 file photo, a group of US Army soldiers take part in an annual military parade celebrating Polish Army Day in Warsaw, Poland. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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