FY 2020 Army Recruitment Numbers Highlight Need to Address Food Insecurity
In order to ensure that there is an adequate pool of qualified recruits in the future, we must do more as a nation to address youth food insecurity and obesity.
Last week, the U.S. Army announced that it had exceeded its active duty end-strength goal with 485,383 soldiers recruited or retained in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. The Army National Guard reported an end-strength of 336,131 soldiers, slightly above its goal of 336,000, and the Army Reserve reported an end-strength of 188,703 soldiers, slightly below the goal of 189,000. In a year in which the entire nation was forced to alter operations due to COVID-19, and the Army was forced to shutter 1,400 recruiting stations, the branch enlisted just over 62,150 new recruits.
While the Army did not establish an official recruiting goal for FY 2020, this number falls significantly short of an unofficial goal floated publicly by Army leaders earlier this year, suggesting that the Army would seek to enlist 69,000 new soldiers. While more than 62,000 enlistments in such a challenging year are a testament to skilled and innovative Army recruiters, Mission: Readiness remains concerned that a lower than expected number of new recruits is more reflective of broader recruiting trends we have seen in recent years than it is of the current pandemic environment.
A recent survey conducted by Mission: Readiness showed that 75 percent of Americans consider military service to be a good career choice, and the pandemic has made Americans 39 percent more likely to consider a career in the military. Although there is some encouraging news from FY2020, including growing numbers of women and people of color, the low enlistment numbers raise concerns about our ability to recruit the number of qualified men and women to staff America’s all-volunteer force, and the strength of our short- and long-term national security.
We know that one of the biggest barriers to enlistment is obesity. Currently, obesity disqualifies 31 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 from service. We also know that the situation is only getting worse: The CDC recently released data showing that the prevalence of childhood obesity nationwide is 18.5 percent, and it affects about 13.7 million children and teens. Without serious action to address our nation’s obesity epidemic, the military will continue to face recruitment challenges and our future national security will be at risk.
A new report from Mission: Readiness, Breaking Point: Child malnutrition imperils America’s national security, shows how this harmful trend has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Estimates suggest that in the wake of the pandemic, food insecurity rates among children could rise to 25 percent, due to increased unemployment and poverty levels. This is particularly alarming since obesity and malnutrition are often connected. Food insecurity, or the lack of access to affordable, healthy foods, can result in consuming cheaper and more accessible food, which often lacks nutritional value.
In order to address the long-term impacts that malnutrition can have on national security, the retired admirals and generals of Mission: Readiness propose increasing flexibility and funding for programs that increase access to fresh and nutritious foods. They also support the development of permanent innovations in transportation, meal delivery, and the development of mobile meal sites for school and summer meals.
The Army’s low recruitment numbers for FY 2020 show us that the work Mission: Readiness members are doing to prepare young people for success is more critical than ever. As retired four-star Air Force General and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers notes in Breaking Point: “COVID-19 has brought attention to many shortcomings in federal nutrition programs. We are again calling for Congress to invest in the health of our youth, by strengthening and modernizing school meal programs to meet current and future challenges.” In order to ensure that there is an adequate pool of qualified recruits in the future, we must do more as a nation to address youth food insecurity and obesity.