With about seven weeks left in the fiscal year, the Army has recruited only about half the number of soldiers it set as its yearly goal.
In an exclusive interview, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the Army has recruited about 52% of its goal for fiscal year 2022 and is likely to wind up short by as many as 15,000 recruits.
"We are right now at about 52% of the mission that we had originally set for ourselves. So we've got a ways to go, and obviously we've only got about a month or so until the fiscal year ends," Wormuth said. "I would say we're [going to be] about 12,000 to 15,000 recruits short this year."
The goal was to have 60,000 active-duty enlistments this fiscal year. While the Army has already said publicly it expects to be short of its overall goal, Wormuth's comments show how significant the shortfall might be. It will have to add more than 10,000 recruits before the end of September just to meet her downsized projection.
The Army is authorized to have as many as 485,000 troops for this fiscal year, but it recently lowered the number to 476,000. Wormuth said that retention of existing service members remains high, which is helping overall with end strength — the total number of members in a service — but that if the recruiting shortage continues over time, it could present a readiness issue for the U.S. military.
NBC News was first to report in June that every branch of the U.S. military was struggling to meet its fiscal year 2022 recruiting goals, according to multiple U.S. military and defense officials. Numbers obtained by NBC News showed both a record low percentage of young Americans eligible to serve and an even tinier fraction willing to consider it.
The pool of those eligible to join the military continues to shrink, with more young men and women than ever before disqualified for obesity, drug use or criminal records. In May, the Army chief of staff, Gen. James McConville, testified before Congress that only 23% of Americans ages 17-24 are qualified to serve without waivers to join, down from 29% in recent years.
An internal Defense Department survey obtained by NBC News found that only 9% of those young Americans eligible to serve in the military had any inclination to do so, the lowest number since 2007.
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More than half of the young Americans who answered the survey — about 57% — think they would have emotional or psychological problems after having served in the military. Nearly half think they would have physical problems.
"They think they're going to be physically or emotionally broken after serving," said a senior U.S. military official familiar with the recruiting issues, who believes a lack of familiarity with military service contributes to the perception.
Among Americans surveyed by the Pentagon who were in the target age range for recruiting, only 13% had parents who had served in the military, down from about 40% in 1995. The military considers parents one of the biggest influencers for service.
An expert on military personnel policy said middle-class parents, including those who are newly middle class, often encourage their kids to go to college before they select careers, which hurts recruiting for enlisted personnel.
"Changing the mind of parents is the really tough part, particularly if these are parents who worked really hard for their children to go to college," said Kate Kuzminski of the Center for a New American Security. She noted that recruiting ads increasingly target the parents of potential recruits. "That's where they're trying to win the hearts and minds."