The Army's recruiting challenges this year continue as senior U.S. Army officials acknowledged to Congress on Tuesday that the total size of the active-duty arm of the branch will be 10,000 soldiers fewer than had been anticipated.
Army officials blame a tight labor market where private companies are incentivizing pay and the decreasing number of young people who can meet their tough eligibility standards.
The total size of the Army, or the "end strength," as it is known, is met by keeping soldiers through retention or by bringing in new soldiers through recruiting. This year's retention rates for the fiscal year 2022, ending in September, are higher than had been planned, but the same cannot be said for Army recruiting.
"The Army active-duty enlisted recruiting goal for the FY22 is 60,000 based on the 476,000 end-strength goal announced in March. As of mid-July, the Army has recruited nearly 30,000 enlisted Soldiers, 50% of our mission," Lt. Col. Randee Farrell, the spokeswoman for Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, said in a statement to ABC News.
Earlier this year, already facing recruiting challenges, the Army had reduced its annual recruiting target by 5,000 recruits.
On Tuesday, during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, Gen. Joseph Martin, the Army's vice chief of staff, acknowledged that the Army's recruiting challenges will mean it will fall about 10,000 soldiers short of meeting its projected end-strength goal.
"We believe that will land at 466,400 for this year for an end strength if we make our recruiting objectives," Martin said. "If we're over or under that will impact next year's and strength, as well. We're taking that all into account."
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., cited new Army information provided to another House committee that the Army would have an even more "dramatic" drop in the fiscal year 2023.
"You're now shifting from an end strength of 473 [thousand] to somewhere between 445,000 and 452,000, so a reduction of between 21,000 and 28,000," Speier said. "That's alarming."
Martin confirmed Speier's numbers and said he was planning for it to be higher, though it would all depend on recruiting.
"I'd like to say that it's 445 to 452 [thousand] but we're going to mission ourselves for 455 if we can achieve it," Martin said. "The question is, it's whether or not we can achieve it."
The big drop in recruiting is blamed on the tight post-COVID labor market and rising incentives from private companies to hire employees. The shrinking number of young Americans eligible to meet their recruiting standards has also shrunk from 29% to 23%.
"Right now what we're experiencing and the why of what we think's going on right now is we've got unprecedented challenges with both a post-COVID-19 environment and labor market, but also competition with private companies that have changed their incentives over time," Martin said.
"You've seen that with the various incentives that companies have provided, and then what we call a decrease as a result of that, a decreasing propensity and requisite qualifications to serve," he added.
What impact the Army's end-strength drop will have on readiness remains to be seen.
Other military branches are also facing recruiting challenges.
"The Department is in fierce competition for skilled, relevant and innovative talent. The labor market, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic and the military-civilian divide, creates a challenging recruiting environment," Gilbert Cisneros, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness of the United States, told senators during an Armed Services subcommittee hearing in April.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that, earlier this year (not March) the Army had reduced its annual recruiting target by 5,000 -- not 15,000 -- recruits.