The National Guard is expected to miss its recruiting goals by 9,000 members when the fiscal year ends next week, the chief of the National Guard bureau said Tuesday.
The Army National Guard will miss its goal by 6,000, and the Air National Guard will be about 3,000 short, Gen. Dan Hokanson told reporters Tuesday.
“[Recruiters] have told me pretty much unanimously, in every location I go, just how difficult the current recruiting challenges are that they’re facing,” Hokanson said. “For many of them, it’s unprecedented in their time as a recruiter.”
Some of the obstacles Hokanson cited include competition from private companies and universities as well as the small pool of the population that qualifies to serve. According to Hokanson, only 23% of 18 to 24 year-olds meet the requirements to join the U.S. military.
In addition to its short falls this year, the Army National Guard expects it could discharge about 14,000 guardsmen over the next two years for, according to Anson Smith, the deputy chief of the Army National Guard Strength Maintenance Division.
Smith said the Army National Guard has not discharged any Guardsmen yet but anticipates a memo from the Secretary of the Army soon that will lay out how discharges will be handled.
The Guard is exploring potential incentives to fix its recruiting woes going forward, including providing health insurance to all of its members. Guardsmen receive health care through the Defense Department when activated, but they have to rely on civilian providers when not in active-duty status.
Hokanson said about 60,000 Guardsmen currently have no health coverage when they are not activated.
“When you look at overall the fact that there is no health insurance provided by the National Guard for folks, and we ask them to be ready, really at a moment’s notice… we really need to make sure that they’re medically and healthy and ready,” Hokanson told reporters Tuesday.
Some of the other potential incentives would include expanded educational benefits and bonuses for recruiters who bring in potential recruits who finish their military training.
The Guard is not alone in its recruiting woes – the military service branches across the board, especially the Army, are facing challenges. A Senate Armed Services subcommittee is holding a hearing Wednesday with representatives from the other services on this issue.