With one month remaining in fiscal 2023, data obtained by Army Times indicates in previously unreported detail that Army recruiters are collectively failing to reach their quotas for fiscal 2023, raising questions about whether the service will meet projected accessions numbers shared by senior leaders.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth previously said the service will miss its fiscal 2023 recruiting goals, and she said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on July 20 that the service will beat its fiscal 2022 active duty totals “by several thousand.” The service previously refused to release detailed in-progress recruiting numbers, though Wormuth said she believes the service will bring in between 50,000 and 55,000 new active duty soldiers out of a goal of 65,000, according to Stars and Stripes.
Army Times obtained internal Army Recruiting Command figures that indicate the service has reached approximately two-thirds of its combined active duty and Army Reserve enlisted contract goals as of Sept. 1. The command issues internal contract goals that differ from the Army’s official accessions goals, explained Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Ruth Castro, who authenticated the numbers.
According to the internal document obtained by Army Times, the command intended to sign nearly 94,000 active and reserve applicants before Sept. 30. But as of Sept. 1, with one month to go in the fiscal year, only around 62,500 recruits (or two-thirds of the contract target) had signed up. Pre-training losses winnowed that number to just under 60,000, or approximately 63.7% of the signing goal.
The contract mission goes beyond the Army’s annual goals and “takes into consideration multiple factors,” Castro said, including “the following year’s accessions mission, along with required entry pool.” She also highlighted leaders’ “dedicated efforts to transform Army recruiting.”
The document does not separate active duty and Army Reserve totals. Personnel from the recruiting command find troops for both components, and the internal report is intended to compare recruiting brigades’ performance rather than analyze which recruits are heading where.
But according to the Defense Department’s most recent public totals, which tracked fiscal 2023 accessions through May, the active duty Army has fared better than the Army Reserve but much worse than the Army National Guard.
As of June 1, the active duty Army had more than 25,000 new soldiers and was on track to attain 68.15% of its accessions goal, the Army Reserve was on pace for 61.59% of its recruiting mission, and the Army Guard was on pace to reach 96.75% of its target.
It’s not clear whether the respective components have maintained those paces — and even that may not be enough to meet the projected totals shared by Wormuth. If the active duty Army were to finish around 68% of its 65,000-soldier goal, its annual total would land slightly lower than fiscal 2022′s 45,000 new recruits.
But the service is relatively optimistic. Castro, the Army spokesperson, argued that “momentum continues to build” with the service’s recruiting push, and celebrated “an increased number of applicants” seen so far in the final quarter of fiscal 2023.
Although Army leaders insist the service has not lowered standards in order to make its recruiting quotas, its Future Soldier Prep Course has accepted recruits who didn’t meet fitness or testing standards and helped them improve in order to enter the Army. Since its inception, the largely successful course has graduated 95% of its attendees, netting 10,000 recruits who moved on to basic training. Officials recently announced it will be a permanent part of the service’s entry training apparatus.
The course is one of many efforts the Army launched in response to the crisis. Other programs include recruiting referral awards, increased bonuses and contract options, and a nine-figure marketing rebrand.
It’s also unclear if or when the service will be forced to make major force structure cuts in response to flagging recruiting. During summer budget hearings, lawmakers appeared skeptical of the Army’s ability to maintain its current posture, and Wormuth discussed how that process might occur in an exclusive June interview with Army Times. But leaders have projected confidence in their ability to maintain 31 active duty brigade combat teams.
Expert Michael Linnick of the RAND think tank suggested the time for cuts may be at hand unless the Army changes how it handles unit readiness.
“At some point the Army must choose between lowering requirements for soldiers – reducing force structure – or accepting the readiness challenges of having more requirements than it can fill, given the shortages in recruits,” Linnick said via email. “If the Army assesses that the current recruiting environment is the new normal, force structure may almost have to come down or the Army will have to adopt a fundamentally different approach to manning units and maintaining unit readiness.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.