While some of those problems still linger and had an effect on numbers in the past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, experts told Military.com that long-standing issues ranging from the ineligibility of many young Americans to serve, a reduced propensity to serve overall, and other barriers to service are still exacerbating the recruiting problem and looming in the future.
"Being thrown off balance by COVID, I do think it threw them off their equilibrium," Katherine Kuzminski, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank who specializes in military recruiting, told Military.com. "I think this was the last year that they could truly claim that inability to access students on high school and college campuses is what is throwing the overall recruiting environment.
"I think next year will be reflective of longer-term issues," she said.
Kuzminski said one major contributing factor to the Marine Corps' recruiting success is its consistent messaging, showcasing the service's amphibious mission and the physical toughness of its ranks.
While the other services seemed to wrestle with their messaging, the Marine Corps has remained consistent, she said.
"I think that is instructive, because that's kind of always been the message for the Marine Corps," Kuzminski said.
Kuzminski said the Space Force’s recruiting success "isn't applicable to any of the other services," pointing out that it is pulling heavily from other branches and that its overall size makes it an anomaly." She noted that will change some at some point, and the Space Force will have to recruit from the civilian population as it continues to grow.
"The way we as Americans kind of approach civic engagement has really shifted over the last 50 years," Kuzminski said. "So, I think relying on old assumptions about, you know, broader civic participation and specifically about military service, that may be a generational challenge."
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