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U.S. Navy Misses Enlisted Recruitment Target by 20 Percent

USN
Recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes, 2019 (USN)

Published Oct 12, 2023 10:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

As predicted by its leaders, the U.S. Navy has missed its recruiting goals for fiscal year 2023 by a wide mark, according to Navy Recruiting Command.

On Tuesday, the command said that it brought in 30,200 enlisted active duty sailors this year, about 7,500 people (20 percent) short of its goal. It also missed its target for Navy Reserve enlisted recruits by 1,000 people.

For active-duty and reserve officers, recruitment fell short by 500 and 800 people respectively. 

The Navy has made every attempt to attract new applicants. It has eased its testing standards to the minimum level allowable by law, maximized its eligible recruitment age, added a coaching program to help low-performing recruits, and launched a pre-boot camp fitness regimen for those who need assistance meeting weight requirements. New incentives have been created to entice promising candidates, like a $35,000 bonus for shipping out quickly. On the retention side, high-year tenure ("up or out") has been eased, and re-enlistment bonuses have been increased for in-demand ratings. 

The Navy's recruiters say that they are up against a trifecta of challenges. Less than a quarter of Americans of prime recruitment age (17-24) meet the requirements to serve in uniform, according to the Pentagon. Those who do qualify have plenty of employment options to choose from, because the civilian job market is stronger than it has been in more than 50 years

For the few who decide to apply, a new electronic medical records screening service - Genesis - has reportedly increased discovery of disqualifying medical events, making it hard for candidates to gloss over past health issues. Recruiters on the ground say that this is a real obstacle, and that applicants often walk away instead of working through a time-consuming waiver process. 

The delay caused by Genesis is measurable: since it entered operation, the average time to get an applicant from first interview to signing a contract has doubled to two months, according to chief of naval personnel Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman.

With its recruiting numbers down in FY2023, the Navy is setting a higher target for FY2024: it wants to find 40,600 new enlisted personnel next year.

Recruitment shortfalls have an effect on readiness, the Navy's leaders have warned. When ships and shore commands operate short-handed, the work is distributed to fewer people, leaving less time for rest, training and maintenance. This can have a slow corrosive effect on morale and readiness. Undermanning was one factor identified in the deadly collisions involving the destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald in 2017.