Navy continues to struggle in recruiting as other services near goal

by Vern Evans

The Navy acquired less than 70 percent of its recruiting goals for the first half of fiscal year 2024 — lagging behind the other services who met at least 90 percent of their recruiting targets during the same period.

The Defense Department reported that the Navy recruited a total of 9,883 new sailors in the first half of fiscal 2024, roughly 66.5 percent of the service’s recruitment target for that time period.

Meanwhile, the other services either met targets or ended up much closer to their goals than the Navy for the first half of the fiscal year.

The Army reached more than 94 percent of its recruitment target, while the Air Force, Marine Corps and Space Force all either met or exceeded their recruitment targets during that period of time.

The Navy missed its recruiting targets for the first time ever in fiscal year 2023, but it is performing better than it did last year, even though it is projected to miss its accessions goal of 40,600 new sailors by roughly 6,700 this fiscal year, according to the Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman.

“We continue to face challenges in the current and forecasted economic environment and tough labor market, resulting in projected recruiting shortfalls in the coming years,” Cheeseman said in a statement.

“The Navy continues to explore and evaluate new methods for attracting qualified, motivated and capable applicants,” he said. “The Navy is projecting a mitigated miss of approximately 6,700 but continues to build pathways for all qualified individuals who want to serve throughout a myriad of recruiting initiatives.”

To bolster its recruiting numbers, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September that the Navy must hold a “conversation with America” about what the sea service can offer.

This would allow those who don’t live near Navy installations or coastal regions, or don’t know any sailors, to become interested in joining, she said.

Franchetti also made clear last week that the recruiting challenges are having a direct impact on the Navy’s maritime mission. She told Congress that the Navy is about 18,000 short of the number of sailors needed for operations at sea, and about 4,000 short for shore-based jobs.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea also has said that recruiting for the Navy is harder.

“I think the Navy, of all the military services, is probably the most difficult to explain to the person that’s never been part of the Navy,” Honea told Navy Times in an exclusive interview in September. “It’s hard to understand what the Navy is doing on the other side of the horizon.”

As a young man, Honea said he considered joining another service, but a Navy recruiter intervened and prompted him to enlist in the sea service instead.

“I’d not even thought about talking with the Navy recruiter,” he said. “The Navy recruiter grabbed me, I’d been speaking with some of the other recruiters. He grabbed me up, took me into his office … and opened up his cruise books and just showed me a world of adventure and a world of opportunity that I had never imagined.”

To counter recruiting challenges, the Navy has ushered in a series of reforms in recent years. For example, the Navy announced in January that those without a high school diploma or General Educational Development credential could enlist — if they score a 50 or higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

The Navy last permitted such applicants to enlist more than 20 years ago, and is the only service to permit those without a high school diploma to enlist. The service projects the change could bring in 2,000 more sailors annually.

The Navy also increased the maximum enlistment age from 39 to 41 in November 2022, and raised the maximum enlistment bonus to $50,000 in February 2022. Additionally, those entering the nuclear field could receive a $75,000 maximum enlistment as of last summer.

The Navy missed its recruitment numbers by more than 7,450 accessions last fiscal year. The service announced in October it recruited 30,236 new active duty sailors in fiscal year 2023, short of its 37,700 target for the year. The service also recruited 1,948 Reserve enlisted personnel, missing its 3,000 goal.

The Navy also missed its targets for officers last fiscal year, recruiting only 2,080 new active duty officers rather than the 2,532 target, and 1,167 Reserve officers rather than the 1,940 target.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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