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As Army struggles to recruit, plan in works to eliminate 24,000 positions

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As the U.S. Armed Forces have struggled to meet recruitment goals, the Army is reducing its troops by 24,000 soldiers.

According to an “Army Force Structure Transformation” document first published by American Military News, the Army announced its restructuring plan due to a “changing security environment and evolving character of war.”

The document explains structural changes were “moving the Army away from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations to a focus on large scale combat operations against highly sophisticated adversaries.”

Part of the structural change includes reducing its force “to protect readiness in light of decreased end strength. The Army is currently significantly over-structured, meaning there are not enough soldiers to fill out existing units and organizations.”

The goal is for Army leaders to have at least 470,000 active-duty soldiers by fiscal 2029, the document states. This is nearly 20,000 above the Army’s current end strength, it says, but roughly 24,000 less authorizations. “Given the addition of 7,500 new authorizations needed to bring new capabilities in the force, the Army needed to identify some 32,000 authorizations across the rest of the force that could be phased out,” adding that planned reductions are for authorized positions, “not asking current soldiers to leave.”

The restructuring reassigns some occupational specialties, deactivates some cavalry squadrons, converts infantry brigade combat team weapons companies to platoons and eliminates some positions across Army security force assistance brigades, among other restructuring. This includes eliminating 10,000 counter-insurgency operation slots, 2,700 positions from units that aren’t regularly deployed, 6,500 training positions and an estimated 10,000 across cavalry squadrons, security force assistance and infantry brigade combat positions, among others listed in the document.

The 7,500 new authorizations mentioned relates to critical operations, technology and drone, air-defense, and new task forces. The Army is also refocusing its recruitment efforts, noting that it “must solve its recruiting challenges to successfully transform for the future.”

The Army has failed to meet its recruiting targets for two consecutive fiscal years. In 2023, it had 452,000 active-duty soldiers, including 325,000 in the Army National Guard and 174,000 in the Army Reserve. This was down from 21,000 overall in 2022, when the Army had the smallest active duty force since before World War II, the Army Times reported.

In fiscal 2023, all branches of the U.S. military failed to meet their combined recruiting goals by 41,000 after they’d already lowered their targets because of recruiting difficulties, the Department of Defense said last year.

Defense Department Acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Ashish Vazirani testified before the U.S. House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee last December that the 41,000 shortfall “understates the challenge before us as the services lowered [their] end-strength goals in recent years, in part because of the difficult recruiting environment. … The all-volunteer force faces one of its greatest challenges since inception.”

Recruitment challenges are multifaceted, ranging from fewer Americans wanting to serve, fewer being qualified who do, and those who do qualify being turned off by “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” and other policies implemented by the Biden administration.

Vazirani pointed out that in 1995, 40% of young Americans had a parent who served in the military. By 2022, this dropped to 12%, which has “led to a disconnect between the military and a large share of society,” he said.

A 2022 Pentagon report found that 77% of 17-to-24-year-old Americans did not qualify for military service because they were overweight, had substance abuse issues, and/or physical and mental health issues. The report cited 2020 data, which was an increase from 2017 data, which showed that 71% of Americans were ineligible, Military.com reported.

At a U.S. House Armed Services Committee hearing last year, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, took issue with the Army’s “transgender inclusion” and DEI policies. He asked Gen. James McConville if they were successful in recruiting young Americans who are most likely to qualify. McConville replied, “probably not.”

Gaetz asked about Army DEI and “transgender soldier” training materials that among other things require female soldiers to share female barracks, bathrooms and shower facilities with men identifying as women. Gaetz argued such policies hurt recruitment.

More recently, he criticized Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for refusing to re-recruit and restore the full rank and back pay for 8,600 service members who were forced out of the military because of Austin’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Nearly all who submitted religious exemption requests to the mandate were rejected and forced out. Gaetz and others have tried to force the Department of Defense to reinstate them.

Last year, companion bills were filed in the House and Senate to require the DOD to offer reinstatement to service members who were discharged for noncompliance to Austin’s mandate prior to it being rescinded in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act. The bills went nowhere.

Congress is again addressing military-related issues this week in several hearings held by the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services committees.