Marines Turning to Outside Experts for Fixes to Recruiting Challenge

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Fifty years after the United States turned to the all-volunteer force, a group of Marines gathered to hear outside experts discuss how to man the force between now and 2040. The Marine Corps, like the other branches, faces a competitive recruiting environment, which it is trying to overcome with a variety of […]

Recruits with Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, learn and apply rappelling techniques on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., October 31, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Fifty years after the United States turned to the all-volunteer force, a group of Marines gathered to hear outside experts discuss how to man the force between now and 2040.

The Marine Corps, like the other branches, faces a competitive recruiting environment, which it is trying to overcome with a variety of talent management programs. But Wednesday, the Marines took a listening role as they sat through multiple panels at the Naval Institute’s Jack C. Taylor Conference Center. Later, Marine leaders would take what they heard and aim to turn it into action, Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith said during his opening remarks.

The Marines have turned to new ideas through their Talent Management 2030, the personnel side of the service’s Force Design 2030. The latest plan stresses retention and maturing the force over a high turnover rate and recruiting the service has been known for in the past. Now, the Marines need to figure out how to continue to recruit enough new Marines each year.

In Fiscal Year 2022, the Marines brought on 33,210 enlisted active-duty Marines, meeting the service’s recruiting goal, but commandant Gen. David Berger has raised concerns that it will not be able to keep meeting those goals.

“Nothing is off the table, except we’re not lowering our standards,” Smith said.

The military cannot be a family business, he said, after asking anyone in uniform to raise their hand if they had a family member who served. The majority raised their hands. Even Smith contributes to that family business. His son is a Marine.

“I really do have skin in this game, and this is personal for me,” he said.

With China as the pacing threat, the numbers do not look good in terms of bodies, Smith said. China has a larger population that can fill its military in the short term. In the United States, the numbers are smaller, reduced even further by fewer young people able to meet eligibility requirements and who have the desire to serve.

“It is just a matter of time before we are once again called to defend our nation and, perhaps, on our own shores,” he said.

The theatres where conflict could occur are expanding, said Jack Goldstone, chair of public policy at George Mason University. The highest growth of young populations is in Asia and Africa, he said.

China’s population growth is slowing, which could lead to President Xi Jinping pushing for a Taiwan invasion in the next 10 years while the population is still strong, Goldstone said. But the population increases in African countries are going to also pose a challenge for the military.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks during his visit to Recruiting Sub-Station, College Station, Texas, Nov. 18, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

China can do more than outmatch the United States in manpower, said Francis Hoffman, a distinguished research fellow at National Defense University. The country also has economic and technological advantages.

Hoffman does not necessarily agree with the idea of China as a pacing threat, saying it is too general. There are multiple futures for which the U.S. needs to prepare, he said.

Marines of the future will need to be more tech-savvy and collaborative, he said.

Technology can help address manpower concerns, said Paul Scharre, vice president at Center for New American Studies. But the Marine Corps will have to ask what can machines do and what still needs a human touch or decision.

Looking toward the future, one aspect that might need to change is the overhaul of the officer system, Scharre said. He questioned why recent college graduates, who go through officer programs, are put into the middle manager version of a position in the military. The system harkens back to the British influence on the country, he said.

“It’s fundamentally unAmerican,” Scharre said. “I don’t know why we do it.”

Instead, there needs to be more education available for enlisted service members so they can get into leadership positions, bringing their time and experience into the positions, he said.
Identifying what the 2040 force will face is one challenge. The other is figuring out how to ensure there are enough people that want to and can serve.

There are systemic issues that are affecting the population that can serve. Obesity, drug use and felony convictions pick away at the population of young Americans targeted by the services. Roughly one in seven men in the United States has a felony conviction, said Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt chair in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Then there is the issue of willingness to serve. Only half of Americans 18-29 years old think the military has a positive effect, said Richard Fry, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center.

Nationally, fertility rates are dropping – there were 58.21 births per 1,000 women in 2019 versus 70.77 in 1990, according to the Census Bureau – but immigration is rising, which means that there will still be a number of young adults, Fry said. Immigrants are a population that the military can pull from, Goldstone said. There are young people who would take the opportunity to join the military as a way to get citizenship.

“So just like all the tech companies in Silicon Valley that are recruiting engineers from around the world, the military should, I think, take a leading role in exploring ways to draw on the strength of immigrants and have immigrants a big part of our National Service and National Defense as they always have been,” he said.

The military needs to expand the pools where it recruits, said Lindsay Cohn, an associate professor at the Naval War College.

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, raise their right hand during the Oath of Allegiance aboard the Battleship USS North Carolina Dec. 2, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“The idea that you should only fish where there are fish, I get that it makes total sense, Cohn said. “But you have to expand your idea of who the fish are. Because if you just go to the places where you have an easy time recruiting numbers, you’re not going to get the force that you need.”

This includes seeking out more women to serve, she said. In addition to seeking out more places to find recruits, the military needs to go to populations that have been less tapped, like women, said Meredith Kleykamp, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland.

Recruiting messaging also needs to change, Kleykamp said. Right now, the message being shared is the one that encouraged current Marine leadership to join. But the Marines need to appeal to future generations.

“And those are the people we need to recruit and the institution needs to be a place that is seen as a desirable place to go for people who both want to serve the nation and fight and defend the country but also who have a very clear sense of justice about our collective national values,” Kleykamp said.

It is not that young people do not want to serve, Cohn said. They just want to serve different communities. The service branches need to appeal to young Americans as their community.

Younger people also see problems as not requiring force, and if there’s no need for force, the military has less importance, Cohn said. When it comes to China, young Americans think the country will affect their lives but they do not see it as a military problem.

That mindset needs to change in order to get more people who want to serve, she said.

The military also needs to figure out how to better recruit those who have already been to college or those considered difficult to recruit, Kleykamp said.

The military does not want to lower its standards, but there are military policies that are kept because it has always been that way not function, Cohn said. She raised the question of haircuts and if it was because of function or history.

Marijuana use is another issue that could be changed, she said. As a compromise, the military could let in people who have used marijuana in the past but not allow use once recruits are in the service.

Medication is another area that can be examined as society as a whole is more medicated now, Cohn said.

Recruiting is about getting those who do not have the desire to serve into the military, said Beth Asch, a senior economist at RAND. Incentives offered by the service branches are good, but they only help push those already considering service.

The military is stressing its recruiting system, said Todd Harrison, managing director at Metrea Strategic Insights. The service branches have made do, but it comes at the cost of lowering standards.

“I don’t think it’s a money problem,” Harrison said. “I think it is a culture problem. It is a career model problem. And then there are some limitations that we’ve artificially imposed on ourselves that are holding us back and making it difficult to recruit the people that we need.”

Recruits with Delta Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, conduct physical training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Jan. 18, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

The military’s reliance on the pyramid model, where many people start at the bottom and few rise to the top is also hurting the military, Harrison said.

“We build ourselves in an inefficient way to try to maintain this pyramid structure,” he said.

It also leads to an up-and-out problem, where those who want to stay are pushed out because they are not promoted, Cohn said.

The military needs to move beyond the industrial model that drove it in the past, he said, a sentiment Cohn echoed. It is not about putting bodies in the Marines anymore, they said. It’s about finding the best and the brightest.

“That is the Marine Corps today, that is who you are today,” Harrison said. “Is that who we want to be in the future?”

New Marine Training Plan Emphasizes Technology to Prepare for Modern Conflict

THE PENTAGON – The Marine Corps laid out a plan Tuesday for transforming training and education of the force through advancements in technology and a focus on critical thinking that will better shape Marines for future operations. Training and Education 2030 is the latest strategy document produced by the Marine Corps as part of its […]

Recruits with Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, initiate the Crucible with a hike at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C, Jan. 12, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

THE PENTAGON – The Marine Corps laid out a plan Tuesday for transforming training and education of the force through advancements in technology and a focus on critical thinking that will better shape Marines for future operations.

Training and Education 2030 is the latest strategy document produced by the Marine Corps as part of its Force Design 2030 effort to reshape the service for modern conflict. Training and Education 2030 is a companion policy to Talent Management 2030 released last year.

Under the new plan, the Marine Corps aims to move away from some of the repetitive training and replace it with exercises that require critical thinking to help young Marines learn to make battlefield decisions, said Lt. Gen. Kevin Iiams, commanding general of Training and Education.

“There’s a sacred process to making a Marine,” Iiams said. “That’s not going to change.”
The critical thinking piece is going to allow the Marines to prepare for what the Marine Corps leaders predict the future will hold as well as unknowns, he told reporters during a roundtable on Tuesday.

The document, which lays out a number of objectives and areas of further study, along with deadlines for each, also formalizes the commanding general of Training and Education as a new deputy commandant.

Training and Education 2030 will build on the core legacy of the Marine Corps, through more integration and abilities provided by technology not previously available or used.

“They want to talk,” Iiams said. “They want to be part of solutions. They want to be thinkers and what we’re doing is we’re just unchaining them, they have capability well beyond anything that we ever imagined. And this is just us recognizing that and finding a ways and a means to unleash it.”

The focus on critical thinking is one way that the Marine Corps can mature the force without just bringing in and retaining older Marines, said Col. Joseph Farley, assistant chief of staff for Training and Education Command.

The training program also lays out some new standards for the Marines, including an emphasis on swimming.

For the past 20 years, the Marine Corps was focused on the Middle East, with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the change of focus to the Indo-Pacific, Marines need to be better equipped to be in the water, said Col. Eric Quehl, director of the policy and standards division in the Training and Education Command.

A U.S. Marine with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Maritime Raid Force prepares to breach and entrance during a limited scale raid as part of Realistic Urban Training Exercise 23.1 on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Jan. 11, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

One aspect of the training plan is Project Tripoli, which will eventually allow for integrated training across the globe through the use of simulations. The idea behind Project Tripoli is that different units will be able to train together even when not in the same place through a combination of live and simulated training.

As an example, Iiams said a situation under Project Tripoli is a lance corporal using a blended reality system to train at Twentynine Palms, Calif., with an F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter pilot using the same training system in a simulator from the East Coast.

“So the airplane doesn’t exist, he sees it as an avatar as being flown by a pilot on the East Coast, that pilot looks down and can actually see the entire grand scheme of maneuver, and can strike and employ in support of the forces,” he said. “That simulator might also be flying in a formation with a live airplane, that live airplane looks over and actually sees its wingman avatar.”

Tripoli also helps to address the lack of long ranges that are required for training on long-range precision missiles or ranges that allow for Marines to test equipment like jammers, Iiams said.

With the use of virtual space, the Marines are able to do this type of training within the space the service already has.

It also allows for more real-time adjudication and feedback, Iiams said.

“We know that Marines learn, humans, learn, in real-time,” he said.

The virtual aspect can also help with safety around training, as it’ll allow for progressive training, said Col. Mark Smith, director of range training programs division under the Training and Education Command.

That sort of progressive training means that a Marine might be able to train on the basics before using live fires, Smith said. Or they can do training that would be considered riskier in a safe environment because of the virtual element.

It also allows Marines to train their critical thinking skills in an environment where they cannot get hurt, Farley said.

The Marine Corps has a mishap library from training exercises so Marines can see mistakes made by other units when training in order to learn and avoid making similar ones, Iiams said.

Aspects of the new training policy are already in effect. Training and Education 2030 lays out new standards and training for marksmanship with a new advanced rifle qualification course, Iiams said.

“[It is] more offensively minded,” Iiams said. “It’s combat related, it’s positional shooting, it’s talking about how they’re actually going to employ their [weapons], teaching them how they’re going to employ their weapons in combat, instead of just marksmanship.”

A U.S. Marine with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Maritime Raid Force signals platoon to halt while on patrol during a limited scale raid as part of Realistic Urban Training Exercise 23.1 on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Jan. 11, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

Marksmanship is more than firing at static paper targets, Quehl said. Instead, the Marines are using training that requires service members to start at farther positions and progress toward the target to simulate a combat situation.

That’s already been rolled out in the fleet, but they are still working toward full operational capability, he said.

The Marine Corps is a learning organization, said Sgt. Maj. Stephen Griffin, command senior enlisted leader of Marine Corps Training and Education Command.

The document lays out the plan for how to modernize the force to be able to address future operations, Iiams said.

“And I think what’s really key here when we talk about the document, as much as we’re talking about new, is this document actually builds on the core legacy of high standards. It’s really, really rooted in our core values, our warfighting ethos, what we consider for our Marines, you know, a desire for a bias for action. And then, you know, really our cornerstone document, which is MCDP 1 Warfighting, and that’s all of the tenets of maneuver warfare.”

Congress Urges Pentagon to Fund COVID-19 Detection Dog Study

COVID-19 research in the military is going to the dogs. COVID-19 detecting dogs, to be specific. Language from the text of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, approved by the House on Thursday, calls for the continued funding of Army research that uses scent detection dogs to sniff out diseases like COVID-19 in […]

COVID-19 detection canine Poncho indicates a positive sample from multiple items presented on a canine training wheel in 2020. US Army Photo

COVID-19 research in the military is going to the dogs. COVID-19 detecting dogs, to be specific.

Language from the text of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, approved by the House on Thursday, calls for the continued funding of Army research that uses scent detection dogs to sniff out diseases like COVID-19 in their early stages.

While there is no provision for the funding in the version of the NDAA that went before the House and will go to the Senate, the summary of the compromise bill, released Tuesday night, urges the Department of Defense to fund the third phase of the research project.

“This research effort will soon complete Phase 2 and has shown promising results, including an accuracy rate of 89 percent in COVID-19 detection from samples,” according to the summary. “It is important that the Department of Defense fund Phase 3 of this research effort to determine whether the use of working dogs is a feasible method of responding to emerging disease threats in a low-cost, timely, and widely applicable manner.”

The first phase of the project, conducted by the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center with the University of Pennsylvania, used samples of urine and saliva from people who were COVID-19 positive and negative, according to an Army news release. The second phase involved collecting shirts that a person wore overnight.

The second phase, involving the t-shirts, will test if the dogs were able to detect if a person has been infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, even if a person is asymptomatic.

As of phase one of the study, the dogs were able to detect a COVID-19 positive person days before a rapid test, according to the news release.

The idea behind the study is that dogs could be able to identify people who are positive for COVID-19 in a large military gathering, according to a news release from the University of Pennsylvania.

The study could also lead to more research into dogs’s abilities to detect other biological threats, Jenna Gadberry, a researcher at the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center, said in the release.

”The way that we’ve been posing this capability to folks is not necessarily a COVID-19 detection capability; it’s a biological threat detection capability,” Gadberry said in the statement. ”We know that this isn’t going to be the last time we see some sort of a virus or pandemic, but we’re demonstrating the ability for dogs to be able to find a positive person or threat. We can take what we learn from the dogs to actually apply it to some of our handheld detectors or laboratory detection systems. They’re able to detect far different elements at this point in time than our laboratory equipment can.”

Dogs have been used to sniff out COVID-19 in other non-military situations as well. Florida International University has been testing dogs to see if they can detect COVID-19, with dogs going to elementary schools to sniff the kids for the disease, according to an NPR article.

The Miami Heat and NASCAR have also used COVID-19 detection dogs, according to the University of Pennsylvania release.

The military’s COVID-19 research extends beyond detection dogs, with various units across the branches getting involved since the beginning of the pandemic.

One such unit was the Naval Medical Research Center, which conducted a study looking at Marine Corps recruits during the pandemic. The study, conducted by Naval Medical Research Center with Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Princeton University, found that men and women had different immune responses to COVID-19, with women having worse symptoms but less viral load.

Women tested in the study had a higher innate immune system activation, Stuart Sealfon, the lead author on the study paper, told USNI News. That early immune response is what causes symptoms when a person gets infected, he said.

“So, the women are mounting a somewhat more vigorous response, which is associated with having more symptoms but less virus,” Sealfon said.

So while women might feel more ill because they have worse symptoms, like a higher fever, their outcome, on average, tended to be better than that of men.

The study captured a baseline level of a protein called interferon, which helps the body attack a pathogen, in the recruits prior to any COVID-19 infection, said Cmdr. Andrew Letizia, science director at Naval Medical Research Unit-2.

The women had higher levels, which helped with their better immune responses, and allowed them to recover quicker, Letizia said.

The study population was overwhelmingly male, given that there are more male recruits than female, but there were still about 200 women in the study, which gave the researchers a large enough sample population.

What made the Navy study stand out is that it was able to follow a population from March to November 2020, Letizia said. During that time frame, the Marine recruits got sick and recovered from COVID-19, allowing the researchers to study their immune responses, while also having a baseline from before they fell ill.

While it was a short amount of time, there were numerous infections, allowing the researchers to collect ample data, Sealfon said.

“It’s a quirk of the pandemic that we were able to have this view of a large number of people before they were affected, during the infection and after infection,” he said. “We have blood samples [to] be able to look at the molecular measurements, that’s not something that would ever happen again.”

The Marine Corps could not shut down during the pandemic, and they still needed to bring in new recruits, Letizia said. That made it possible to do the study, especially since other parts of the country were on lockdown.

The service needed to understand how the virus spreads among a congregate population with a lot of interaction as well as how quickly a person could return to training safely following infection, he said. The study’s goal was to answer some of the fundamental questions and inform mitigation strategies.

Studying the Marine recruits had its pros and cons. While they were able to get the data, the group was healthy 18 to 21-year-olds who were in good physical health, Sealfon said. That means the results of the study cannot be extrapolated to the general public without more research.

The immunological response is just one analysis to come out of the study, Letizia said. The study has produced 10 peer-reviewed papers so far. Another planned analysis is looking at long COVID in the recruits that were infected, he said.

VIDEO: 18 Marines Become U.S. Citizens Following Naturalization Ceremony

There are 18 new American citizens Friday, after the Marine Corps held a naturalization ceremony aboard former battleship USS North Carolina. 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division held the ceremony Friday morning, bringing in 18 Marines from 14 countries to become U.S. citizens, one of the largest ceremonies for a Marine […]

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, raise their right hand during the Oath of Allegiance aboard the Battleship USS North Carolina Dec. 2, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

There are 18 new American citizens Friday, after the Marine Corps held a naturalization ceremony aboard former battleship USS North Carolina.

1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division held the ceremony Friday morning, bringing in 18 Marines from 14 countries to become U.S. citizens, one of the largest ceremonies for a Marine Corps battalion, according to a news release from the 2nd Marine Division.

Since 2002, the United States has naturalized more than 158,000 service members, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In Fiscal Year 2022 alone, 10,640 service members became U.S. citizens, an increase of approximately 21 percent over the previous fiscal year.

The top five countries for service members who become U.S. citizens are the Philippines, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria and China, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The 18 Marines came from countries including Burkina Faso, China and Colombia.

Although the 18 Marines have been serving already, their new citizenship will allow them to pursue different specialities or commissioning opportunities, according to the release.

“Today was a great chance to recognize a significant event in the lives of these young Marines” Lt. Col. William Kerrigan, the battalion’s commanding officer, said in the release. “They have already raised their hands and committed to defending this nation, without even being U.S. citizens. Now that they have earned their citizenship, I’m excited to see where it takes them.”

Between FY 2018 and FY 2022, 63 percent of service members who became naturalized citizens came from the Army, with 17.3 percent from the Navy, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Marine Corps accounted for 5.9 percent of service members who became naturalized citizens.

Tough Military Recruiting Environment is About Much More than Low Unemployment, Experts Say

When it comes to military recruiting, economist Beth Asch is an optimist. Asch has been studying military recruiting for almost 40 years, during which she has seen good recruiting years and bad ones. Each time a new challenge arises, it’s treated like a crisis, she said during a Heritage Foundation discussion Tuesday. In the 1990s, […]

Recruits with the 64th Annual Recruit Cardinal Division stand at attention during a pass-in-review graduation ceremony inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall at Recruit Training Command, Nov. 4, 2022. US Navy Photo

When it comes to military recruiting, economist Beth Asch is an optimist. Asch has been studying military recruiting for almost 40 years, during which she has seen good recruiting years and bad ones.

Each time a new challenge arises, it’s treated like a crisis, she said during a Heritage Foundation discussion Tuesday. In the 1990s, recruiting was affected by the dot com boom when more people were being hired by the growing tech industry, Asch said in a November interview with USNI News. In 2005, a stronger economy and the war in Iraq led to less interest in joining the services.

But history shows that recruiting challenges can be overcome, Asch said, suggesting that the current recruiting issues are no different.

“Invariably, it can take a while,” she said. “It can take a lot of resources, it will involve mistakes, and it can be quite costly. And that has to be reckoned with but I am optimistic that things will get back on track. I mean they have to.”

Top military leaders have suggested that the strong job market might be the cause for the current recruiting woes, suggesting it can be difficult to attract talent who also have opportunities to work for large box stores like Amazon.

But a lack of recruits eligible to serve and decreased trust in the military, instead of a strong job market, are likely the leading factors for recruitment troubles, the top Marine Corps officer suggested in a November article.

Marine Corps recruits with Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, squat with a log during log drills at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Nov. 28, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“The Marine Corps is struggling to recruit talented young Americans in a competitive economy and from a society increasingly distant from the military,” Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger wrote in a piece for Naval Institute’s Proceedings. “And we are not alone; all the services are experiencing similar challenges. This concerns me both as the Commandant and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because the Marine Corps relies on the other services, and they rely on us, across a web of interdependencies.”

The Marine Corps met its Fiscal Year 2022 recruiting goals, bringing on 33,210 enlisted active-duty Marines. But Berger, and other military leaders, have raised concerns that the branches won’t continue to meet those goals.

The Navy, which just barely met its recruitment goals in FY 2022, raised its age limit for new recruits last month as one way to increase the pool for eligibility. The sea service is also offering enlistment bonuses, a tactic the Army and Air Force also use.

A low unemployment rate in the United States has been one of the most cited reasons for the more difficult recruitment environment, but Berger argues that while it might be a contributing factor, it deserves less of the blame.

“Yet, some of our deepest challenges are chronic, indicating that the strength of the economy may be less critical than commonly thought,” Berger wrote. “For example, the Marine Corps has struggled—in good economic times and bad—to produce and retain an adequate number of pilots, even for the newest, most modern aircraft.”

The commandant, in his article, also evaluates the shrinking pool of eligible candidates. Most recent numbers suggest that 77 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 21 are not eligible to serve in the military, retired Rear Adm. Robert Besal, who works with advocacy group Mission Readiness, told USNI News.

The top three reasons for ineligibility are failure to pass entrance exams, health concerns and prior criminal activity, including drug abuse. One of the main health concerns is childhood obesity, which Besal said counts for 30 percent of those who are ineligible.

Mission Readiness is attempting to fix the pool of eligibility by trying to get funding for educational and nutrition programs, Besal said, but that requires getting congressional and other legislative officials to think in the long term.

Programs that would help childhood obesity and failure to pass entrance exams should start with children as young as three years old, Besal said. But the payoff will not be for another 15 years, when that child becomes eligible for service.

Gen. David H. Berger makes remarks during the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific change of command ceremony on Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Sept. 7, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

But while Mission Readiness looks at what can be done for the future, there are limited options for the services right now to fix the ineligibility problem, Berger wrote.

“Military leaders have few levers to pull to increase the number of Americans eligible for service, and the biggest and most immediate lever—lowering standards—is not one military leaders or most Americans want,” he wrote. “To effect enduring change requires understanding and addressing the declining propensity to serve.”

The economy can contribute to recruitment challenges, but it is a cyclical factor, Asch, who is a senior economist at RAND, told USNI News

Historically, when there is low employment, it’s harder for the military to recruit, she said in an interview Nov. 2. This could be the case for the military right now, but it’s all speculation, she said.

“I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” Asch said. “I think it’s a matter of understanding the array of factors that could be having an effect and then teasing out their relative importance and for what particular groups, under what circumstances.”

Berger also points out that recruitment challenges persist even when the unemployment rate is higher, which generally is associated with better recruiting, suggesting that the economy, while a factor, is not the sole cause for recruiting woes.

Berger pointed to a lack of trust in the military, a factor that Besal also highlighted.
The military used to be one of the most trusted institutions, Besal said.

“There’s been, I don’t want to just call them all scandals, but there’s been some missteps whether in the active force, whether individual or collective, and some things that should have never occurred,” Besal said. “And so I think that’s something that really will have to take a strain inside the service to straighten that up. Because I think that you’re gonna get fewer people listening to you when you make this plea.”

People have inaccurate views about the military, which does not help the trust issue, Asch said. As an example, people do not always know the difference between the branches of the military or what it means to be a noncommissioned officer.

“People have a lot of ignorance, and that’s increased,” she said.

That ignorance is similar between those who enlist and those who do not, but the difference is that those who choose military service have positive values associated with the military.

Trust in the military is a new problem, but it will take more resear

A recruit embraces with a family member as he is picked up for Recruit Training Command’s (RTC) Thanksgiving Adopt-A-Sailor program. US Navy Photo

In Berger’s piece, he points to a shrinking pool of people who have familial ties to the services.

“A growing percentage of those serving in uniform have a close relative who also served (or is currently serving),” Berger wrote. “In other words, those who are most familiar with the military are most likely to enlist.”

This does play out in recruiting, Asch said, where many recruits do have a family connection.

However, this could hurt the military, as the Military Family Advisory Network’s most recent survey found that military members are increasingly less likely to recommend a military career to a family member.

There was an 11 percent drop between 2019 and 2021 among family members who would recommend service, said Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network.

Approximately 62.9 percent of military participants surveyed by Military Family Advocacy Network would recommend military service to family members, according to the 2021 annual survey. That’s down from 74.5 percent in 2019.

The drop is attributed to low pay, leadership challenges, frequent moves that make it difficult on families, and military benefits that no longer outweigh the challenges that come with service, Razsadin said.

But Berger points out that the pool of eligible military recruits could shrink to those with a family connection if the military does not do more to reach out to those unfamiliar with the military, and the family pool could be shrinking as well.

“Definitely you’re pulling from a smaller pool, because when you had the draft, you know, everyone had the requirement of service,” Razsadin said. “And so these are people who are choosing to make the sacrifices, they’re choosing to serve. And so, of course, it’s gonna be a different percentage than if you had the draft and mandatory service requirements.”

Defense Primer: Naval Forces

The following is the Nov. 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Naval Forces. From the report “Naval Forces” Refers to Both the Navy and Marine Corps Although the term naval forces is often used to refer specifically to Navy forces, it more properly refers to both Navy and Marine Corps forces, because both the […]

The following is the Nov. 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Naval Forces.

From the report

“Naval Forces” Refers to Both the Navy and Marine Corps

Although the term naval forces is often used to refer specifically to Navy forces, it more properly refers to both Navy and Marine Corps forces, because both the Navy and Marine Corps are naval services. For further discussion, see CRS In Focus IF10484, Defense Primer: Department of the Navy, by Ronald O’Rourke. For a discussion of the Marine Corps that focuses on its organization as a ground-combat force, see CRS In Focus IF10571, Defense Primer: Organization of U.S. Ground Forces, by Barbara Salazar Torreon and Andrew Feickert.

U.S. Strategy and Naval Forces

U.S. naval forces give the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans—a global commons that covers more than two-thirds of the planet’s surface—into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and otherwise defending U.S. interests around the world. The ability to use the world’s oceans in this manner—and to deny other countries the use of the world’s oceans for taking actions against U.S. interests—constitutes an immense asymmetric advantage for the United States.

As discussed elsewhere (see CRS In Focus IF10485, Defense Primer: Geography, Strategy, and U.S. Force Design, by Ronald O’Rourke), the size and composition of U.S. naval forces reflect the position of the United States as a Western Hemisphere power with a goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons (and otherwise defending and promoting U.S. interests) in Eurasia. As a result, the U.S. Navy includes significant numbers of aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered attack submarines, large surface combatants, large amphibious ships, and underway replenishment ships.

Navy Ship Types

The Navy’s ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) are dedicated to performing a singular mission of strategic nuclear deterrence. The Navy’s other ships, which are sometimes referred to as the Navy’s general-purpose ships, are generally multimission ships capable of performing a variety of missions other than strategic nuclear deterrence. The principal types of general-purpose ships in the Navy include attack submarines (SSNs); aircraft carriers (CVNs); large surface combatants, meaning cruisers (CGs) and destroyers (DDGs); small surface combatants, meaning frigates (FFGs), Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), mine warfare (MIW) ships, and patrol craft (PCs); amphibious ships, whose primary function is to transport Marines and their equipment and supplies to distant operating areas and support Marine ship-to-shore movements and Marine operations ashore; combat logistics force (CLF) ships, which perform underway replenishment (UNREP) operations, meaning the at-sea resupply of combat ships; and other support ships of various types.

The Navy’s aircraft carriers embark multimission carrier air wings (CVWs) consisting of 60+ aircraft—mostly fixed-wing aircraft, plus a few helicopters. Each CVW typically includes 40 or more strike fighters that are capable of air-to-ground (strike) and air-to-air (fighter) combat operations.

Size of the Navy

The total number of ships in the Navy is a one-dimensional metric that leaves out many other important factors bearing on the Navy’s size and capabilities. Even so, observers often cite the total number of ships in the U.S. Navy as a convenient way of summarizing the Navy’s size and capabilities.

The quoted number of ships in the Navy reflects the battle force ships counting method, which is a set of rules for which ships count (or do not count) toward the quoted number of ships in the Navy. The battle force ships counting method was established in the early 1980s and has been modified by subsequent legislation. Essentially, it includes ships that are readily deployable overseas, and which contribute to the Navy’s overseas combat capability. The Naval History and Heritage Command maintains a database on numbers of ships in the Navy from 1886 to the present. (It is available here: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/us-ship-force-levels.html.) Since this database extends back to 1886, it uses a different counting method that is more suitable for working with older historical data. This alternate counting method, however, produces, for the 1980s onwards, figures for the total size of the Navy that are different than the figures produced by the battle force ships counting method. For this reason, using figures from the NHHC database to quote the current size of the Navy can cause confusion.

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GAO Report on Pentagon Cybersecurity Incidents

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, DoD Cybersecurity: Enhanced Attention Needed to Ensure Cyber Incidents Are Appropriately Reported and Shared. From the report The Department of Defense (DOD) and our nation’s defense industrial base (DIB)—which includes entities outside the federal government that provide goods or services critical to meeting U.S. […]

The following is the Nov. 14, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, DoD Cybersecurity: Enhanced Attention Needed to Ensure Cyber
Incidents Are Appropriately Reported and Shared.

From the report

The Department of Defense (DOD) and our nation’s defense industrial base (DIB)—which includes entities outside the federal government that provide goods or services critical to meeting U.S. military requirements—are dependent on information systems to carry out their operations. These systems continue to be the target of cyber attacks, as DOD has experienced over 12,000 cyber incidents since 2015 (see figure).To combat these incidents, DOD has established two processes for managing cyber incidents—one for all incidents and one for critical incidents. However, DOD has not fully implemented either of these processes.

GAO Graphic

Despite the reduction in the number of incidents due to DOD efforts, weaknesses in reporting these incidents remain. For example, DOD’s system for reporting all incidents often contained incomplete information and DOD could not always demonstrate that they had notified appropriate leadership of relevant critical incidents. The weaknesses in the implementation of the two processes are due to DOD not assigning an organization responsible for ensuring proper incident reporting and compliance with guidance, among other reasons. Until DOD assigns such responsibility, DOD does not have assurance that its leadership has an accurate picture of the department’s cybersecurity posture.

In addition, DOD has not yet decided whether DIB cyber incidents detected by cybersecurity service providers should be shared with all relevant stakeholders, according to officials. DOD guidance states that to protect the interests of national security, cyber incidents must be coordinated among and across DOD organizations and outside sources, such as DIB partners. Until DOD examines whether this information should be shared with all relevant parties, there could be lost opportunities to identify system threats and improve system weaknesses.

DOD has established a process for determining whether to notify individuals of a breach of their personally identifiable information (PII). This process includes conducting a risk assessment that considers three factors—the nature and sensitivity of the PII, likelihood of access to and use of the PII, and the type of the breach. However, DOD has not consistently documented the notifications of affected individuals, because officials said notifications are often made verbally or by email and no record is retained. Without documenting the notification, DOD cannot verify that people were informed about the breach.

Download the document here.

Report: Navy, Marine Corps Suicide Rates Down From Previous Year, 10-Year Trend Increasing

The Navy’s 2021 suicide rate decreased compared to 2020 and 2019, according to the annual suicide report released by the Department of Defense on Thursday. Although the past two years showed decreases, – 2021’s rate is the lowest in five years – the overall trend line since 2011 is still rising, according to the report. […]

US Navy Photo

The Navy’s 2021 suicide rate decreased compared to 2020 and 2019, according to the annual suicide report released by the Department of Defense on Thursday.

Although the past two years showed decreases, – 2021’s rate is the lowest in five years – the overall trend line since 2011 is still rising, according to the report.

While the Navy’s rate decreased over the past two years, the decrease between 2021 and 2020 was not statistically significant, said Liz Clark, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.

The Marine Corps is in a similar position, in which the past two years have seen a decrease in suicide rate, although the trend line since 2011 shows that the rate is increasing. The Marine Corps’ decrease between 2021 and 2020 was also not statistically significant, Clark said.

Overall, the entire military suicide rate decreased by 15 percent between 2021 and 2020, said Beth Foster, executive director for the Office of Force Resiliency. She stressed that one year does not provide enough data to show a trend and the overall trend for the military is down since 2011.

“While we’re going to talk about a lot of numbers here today, every one of these numbers is a person and represents a family and a community that has been forever changed by this tragedy,” Foster said.

The Army saw a similar rate in 2021 as it did in 2020, while the Air Force saw a statistically significant decrease, Clark said.

It is not clear if decreasing COVID-19 restrictions for service members played any role in the decrease in overall suicides between 2021 and 2020, Foster said. Similarly, Navy officials told USNI News it was unclear what role COVID-19 had on the suicide rate in 2020, USNI News previously reported.

The Navy’s rate of suicide for 2021 was 58 deaths for 100,000 active-duty sailors, according to the annual report, down from 65 deaths per 100,000 active-duty sailors the year before.

The majority of service members who die by suicide are young, enlisted men, according to the report. Firearms accounted for 67 percent of active-duty suicides in 2021.

In the general population, suicide rates tend to be the highest among men, with firearms accounting for the most suicides, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. However, military service member suicides tend to be younger than the general population, which sees more suicides among middle-aged men.

For the Navy, the largest percentage of suicides – 37.9 percent – were among active-duty sailors between 21 and 24 years old, according to the report. The next highest – 27.6 percent – were among sailors 25 to 29 years old.

The Department of Defense collects demographic and situational information about each suicide and suspected suicide, which is entered into the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report. There were 55 entries for sailors in 2021.

Based on the report, the majority of the 55 Navy entries listed firearms as contributing to suicide. Of the entries, 66.7 percent were on sailors with ranks between E1-E4.

Nearly a quarter of Navy suicides in 2021 occurred in a residence off of a military installation, while 21.8 percent were in an on-post residence, according to the entries. The Navy did not know the location for approximately 38 percent of suicides, while 3.6 percent were in Navy berthing.

The Department of Defense also received 243 entries for attempted suicide from Navy sailors in 2021.

Suicide Prevention Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

The Navy Suicide Prevention Handbook is a guide designed to be a reference for policy requirements, program guidance, and educational tools for commands. The handbook is organized to support fundamental command Suicide Prevention Program efforts in Training, Intervention, Response, and Reporting.

The 1 Small ACT Toolkit helps sailors foster a command climate that supports psychological health. The toolkit includes suggestions for assisting sailors in staying mission ready, recognizing warning signs of increased suicide risk in oneself or others, and taking action to promote safety.

Navy, Marine Corps Will Continue to Fly MV-22s Ospreys After Air Force Grounds Fleet

The Navy and Marine Corps will keep their Ospreys flying after the Air Force grounded its fleet of the tilt-rotor aircraft. Both services said they are keeping an eye on a clutch issue that led the Air Force to halt operations for the CV-22 Ospreys flown by Air Force Special Operations Command. “All Navy CMV-22 […]

U.S. Marines prepare to take off in a MV-22B Osprey at Norwegian Air Force Base Bodø during Exercise Cold Response 22, Norway, March 16, 2022. US MArine

The Navy and Marine Corps will keep their Ospreys flying after the Air Force grounded its fleet of the tilt-rotor aircraft.

Both services said they are keeping an eye on a clutch issue that led the Air Force to halt operations for the CV-22 Ospreys flown by Air Force Special Operations Command.

“All Navy CMV-22 Osprey units continue to conduct operations throughout the fleet. We are aware of the issues affecting other Osprey variants and are closely monitoring our CMV-22 aircraft for similar occurrences,” Cmdr. Zach Harrell, a spokesperson for Naval Air Forces, told USNI News in a statement.

In a call with reporters on Thursday, a Marine Corps official acknowledged the clutch problem could affect all three Osprey variants, but said it has not happened to any of the Navy’s CMV-22Bs. The Navy only started deploying its CMV-22Bs last year, while the Marine Corps and Air Force have been flying their respective variants for much longer.

“The hard clutch issue has been known to the Marine Corps since 2010, and as such, we have trained our pilots to react with the appropriate emergency control measures should the issue arise during flight. We also remain engaged with the Joint Program Office, NAVAIR engineering, and our industry partners to resolve the issue at the root cause,” Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman, said in a statement.
“By virtue of these measures, the Marine Corps has accumulated over 533,000 MV-22 flight hours without a single catastrophic event contributed to this hazard. The Deputy Commandant for Aviation has also issued interim guidance to the Fleet Marine Forces implementing a procedure to help in the early recognition of a pending hard clutch engagement. Additionally, we will continue to proactively communicate our ongoing efforts with the men and women who fly and maintain our aircraft. They deserve nothing less.”

In the history of the program, there have been 15 instances in which Marine Corps and Air Force Ospreys have experienced this clutch problem, which happens during takeoff, Marine Corps officials told reporters. Of the 15 instances, 10 have happened within the Marine Corps. No injuries have happened due to the clutch problem, the officials said.

A spokesperson for Naval Air Systems Command said the command, Bell Boeing – the industry team that builds the Ospreys, – and the Joint Program Office are trying to figure out the source of the problem.

“Naval Air Systems Command and the V-22 Joint Program Office (PMA-275) have been working with our Bell Boeing industry partners on a known V-22 Aircraft clutch issue. While root cause remains under investigation, we are implementing additional risk mitigation controls to ensure the safety of our Service Members,” Marcia Hart said in a statement.
“The program office continues to communicate and collaborate with all V-22 customers, including allied partners. The safety of pilots and air crews is our number one priority.”

The decisions from the Navy and Marine Corps come after Breaking Defense reported Wednesday that the Air Force halted operations for its fleet of CV-22 Ospreys following two recent instances in which aircraft experienced problems with the clutch.

The first Marine Corps official said performing hover checks, when the aircraft is using less power and operating within a rotor’s distance of the ground, will help mitigate issues with the clutch. That official said the Joint Program Office is likely one to three years away from finding a materiel solution to the problem.

Marine Corps Exceed Retention Goals Early, Hit More Than 100 Percent

The Marine Corps hit retention goals early for the first time in 10 years, the service announced last week. Over the past nine years, the Marine Corps reached approximately 97.2 percent of its retention goal. However, for Fiscal Year 2022, the service already hit 101.1 percent of its goal, said Yvonne Carlock on behalf of […]

11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) celebrates the Marine Corps 246th birthday on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on Nov. 10, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Marine Corps hit retention goals early for the first time in 10 years, the service announced last week.

Over the past nine years, the Marine Corps reached approximately 97.2 percent of its retention goal. However, for Fiscal Year 2022, the service already hit 101.1 percent of its goal, said Yvonne Carlock on behalf of Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

The goal for FY22 for Marines on their initial contracts was 5,820, Carlock said in an email. For Marines with four to 20 years of service, the retention goal was 5,417.

Carlock was not able to provide retention goals for FY 2021 in time of publication. It is unclear if the retention goals for this year are higher or lower than in the past.

It was also unclear the effect of COVID-19 on retention, Carlock said in the email. The Marine Corps has separated ​​3,069 Marines due to refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the most recent report.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger’s Force Design 2030 calls for a reduced force of 175,000 Marines, USNI News previously reported. Force Design 2030 also calls for a focus on retention, going against the traditionally high turnover that is associated with the Marines.

The Marine Corps, like the other military branches, is struggling with recruitment due to a competitive marketplace. The service cannot recruit itself way out of talent challenges, Gen. Eric Smith, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps, said Monday. But the service can use retention to solve some of the problem.

The Marine Corps is changing how they retain, Smith said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies event. Before the service would often wait until it received all the interest for reenlistment before racking and stacking each Marine.

Now it is making the process more streamlined, with one step instead of 22, and making it more appealing for people to stay.

As an example, Smith said the service wants to be able to have conversations to figure out how it can keep Marines. If a service member says he or she would stay if they could stay in the same location for a couple more years, that could be a concession the Marine Corps makes in order to retain someone, Smith said.

But Marines should not expect to ask that they stay in the same location for 20 years, Smith said.

The Marines are also putting retention responsibility on leaders through the Command Retention Mission (CRM).

“In support of the CRM, Enlisted Assignments and Retention Branch created multiple avenues to coach and education commanders,” Carlock said in the email. “The on-the-road Key Leader engagements and multiple virtual engagements as well were used to strengthen relationships and communication throughout the Marine Corps.”

While the service started its retention campaign before Talent Management 2030 was announced, the service was able to benefit from the attention to retention, Carlock said.

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2023, the service is applying the Commandant’s Retention Program, which uses the Headquarters Marine Corps to screen Marines and pre-approve them for re-enlistment, Carlock said.

The retention team screened 24,680 and was able to pre-approve nearly approximately 2,500 for re-enlistment, she said.

“All these Marine[s] have to do is agree to reenlist, choose a unit option, and execute their reenlistment,” Carlock said in the email. “The other 20 steps in the process have been completed for them. Would we have wanted to do more than 2,500? Yes! But that was the maximum our team could process for now. We are looking at ways to increase that number.”