Military Recruiting Shortfall Hits Key Jobs Hardest

A new GAO study reveals that the military has fallen short of its target for key positions needed in stabilization operations and maked this shortfall by overfilling other jobs.

Vital Military Jobs Go Unfilled, Study Says (NYT)

The military is falling far behind in its effort to recruit and re-enlist soldiers for some of the most vital combat positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new government report. The report, completed by the Government Accountability Office, shows that the Army, National Guard and Marines signed up as few as a third of the Special Forces soldiers, intelligence specialists and translators that they had aimed for over the last year.

Both the Army and the Marines, for instance, fell short of their goals for hiring roadside bomb defusers by about 20 percent in each of the last two years. The Army Reserve, meanwhile, failed to fill about a third of its more than 1,500 intelligence analysts jobs. And in the National Guard, there have been consistent shortages filling positions involving tanks, field artillery and intelligence. The report found that, in all, the military, which is engaged in the most demanding wartime recruitment effort since the 1970’s, had failed to fully staff 41 percent of its array of combat and noncombat specialties.

Officials with the accountability office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, found that some of the critical shortfalls had been masked by the overfilling of other positions in an effort to reach overall recruiting goals. As a result, the G.A.O. report questioned whether Congress had been given an accurate picture by the Pentagon of the military’s ability to maintain the force it needs for Iraq and Afghanistan. “The aggregate recruiting numbers are rather meaningless,” said Derek B. Stewart, the G.A.O.’s director of military personnel. “For Congress and this nation to truly understand what’s happening with the all-volunteer force and its ability to recruit and retain highly qualified people, you have to drill down into occupational specialties. And when you do, it’s very revealing.”

This is quite troubling although only somewhat surprising. The first part of this–the shortfall in Special Forces, linguists, and such–is not news. The military has long had far too few of these folks. I’ve been writing about that since 1992 when it became obvious to me watching news of the Somalia debacle. As I’ve noted several times on this site, this has been exacerbated since the Iraq War started by both the natural tendency of people not to volunteer for arduous duty that will take them away from their families and expose them to substantial physical danger and the fact that those wanting to do this work can make triple the salary working as private military contractors.

More troubling, though, is the over-recruitment of non-essential MOSs, especially if it was done to intentionally mislead Congress. My hope is that it was simply a matter of eager recruiters trying to meet their quotas and a policy decision higher in the chain of command that we needed manpower of any sort enough to take what we could get.

The report is entitled, “Military Personnel: DOD Needs Action Plan to Address Enlisted Personnel Recruitment and Retention Challenges GAO-06-134, November 17, 2005.” Three versions are available: Abstract | Highlights-PDF | Full Report-PDF

I haven’t had time to do more than scan the highlights but it appears that there is no fraud going on, just honest difficulty in recruiting. Still, as the report highlights, it is quite problematic:

While the components offered reasons why occupational specialties may be over- or underfilled, GAO believes that consistently over- and underfilled occupational specialties are a systemic problem for DOD that raises two critical questions. First, what is the cost to the taxpayer to retain thousands more personnel than necessary in consistently overfilled occupational specialties? Second, how can DOD components continue to effectively execute their mission with consistently underfilled occupational specialties? In FY 2005, almost 31,000 more servicemembers than authorized served in occupational specialties that have been consistently overfilled. GAO determined that it costs the federal government about $103,000 annually, on average, to compensate each enlisted active duty servicemember in FY 2004. In contrast, DOD was unable to fill over 112,000 positions in consistently underfilled occupational specialties, raising concerns about the validity of the authorized personnel levels. DOD requires the active components to report on critical occupational specialties for recruiting and retention, which amounts to at most 16 percent of their 625 specialties. However, DOD does not require them to report on their noncritical occupational specialties, and does not require the reserve or National Guard components to report on any of their 859 specialties. Consequently, DOD does not have the necessary information to develop an effective plan to address the root causes of the components̢۪ recruiting and retention challenges.

Not good. It should be kept in mind, though, that we have had an all-volunteer force since 1973. This is the first time during that stretch that we have fought a sustained, manpower intensive war. There’s bound to be a learning curve.

Update (0951): Interestingly, we have this story in juxtaposition:

Army to Halt Call-Ups of Inactive Soldiers (WaPo, A11)

The Army has suspended plans to expand an unwieldy, 16-month-old program to call up inactive soldiers for military duty, after thousands have requested delays or exemptions or failed to show up. Despite intense pressure to fill manpower gaps, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey said the Army has no plans for any further call-up of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) beyond the current level of about 6,500 soldiers. The IRR is a pool of about 115,000 trained soldiers who have left active-duty or reserve units for civilian life, but remain subject to call-up for a set period.

The Army also announced, in a memo released this week, that it will no longer involuntarily mobilize from the IRR an estimated 15,000 Army officers who have already completed their eight years of required military duty, stating that under a new policy it will offer them a chance to resign instead.

A reasonable compromise. It is unconscionable to force people who have already fulfilled their eight-year obligation back onto active duty in the context of an all-volunteer force.

via Jeff Quinton




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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    I recommend reviewing the full text of the report at the GAO website. If you get past the NYT accusations of “massaging” recruiting numbers and a mass exodus of personnel due to Iraq and the GWOT, the REAL reasons are eye opening.

    For example, the number of Infantrymen in the active Army is overfilled, although it is still below the numbers required for the planned transformation. We all know the “new” army will include more combat-related, self-sufficient units, with less support troops.
    Meanwhile, the Guard is below the amount of Infantrymen needed. Could it be because these heroes choose to stay in the active Army? You wouldn’t hear it in the NYT.

  2. legion says:

    That’s one possibility, but I think a more plausible reason is that infantry doesn’t really translate to any particular civilian job. Most Guardsmen have civ jobs that are somewhat related to their MOS or AFSC… it’s a win-win situation for maintaining technical competence. If someone really _wants_ to stay infantry, though, there’s not much incentive to ever leave active duty.

  3. Wayne says:

    I wonder if the Army regrets shutting down the 2 Special Forces Group (one reserve and one Guard) in the early 90’s? One of them specialized in Middle East area. I know many of us felt a little cheated. Although predicting the future is always a gamble.

  4. anjin-san says:

    This is clearly an opportunity for LJD and the others who we see supporting the war so vocally on this site to voulenteer for duty in Iraq…

  5. Wayne says:

    Been there done anjin-san

    Been there done that. I like to see the whiney liberals who supposedly are so concern about military personnel and who are trying to tell the Military how to do their jobs to sign up. I like to see their philosophy put to the test in the real world. Remember the military recruitment cut off age is 39 so don’t be late.

  6. anjin-san says:


    That would mean you are an experienced vet, all the more reason for you to go to Iraq now that Bush has left our military so badly depleated.

    And if you can show me one place where I attempted to tell the military how to do its job, I would love to see it. Please share.

    The military knows how to do its job. Problem is Bush has put them in a terrible position where they are trying to be cops and nation builders which is not their job.

    Bush had no plan for Iraq, post-Saddam (except perhaps, get the oil). Our troops are paying for this lack of foresight with blood.

  7. LJD says:

    “…show me one place where I attempted to tell the military how to do its job, I would love to see it. Please share.”

    “…they are trying to be cops and nation builders which is not their job.”

    LOL! You couldn’t even wait one paragraph. More proof, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Actually being cops and nation builders is exactly what our job is. It started with your buddy Clinton. Remember Bosnia? Kosovo?

  8. anjin-san says:

    OK LJD you admit Clinton succeded in Bosnia while Bush has failed in Iraq. Big of you.

    How many of our guys died in Bosnia? I can’t remember offhand.

  9. LJD says:

    Your hyposcrisy knows no bounds:

    You say you won’t tell the military how to do it’s job, then you do immediately following.

    You express so much “concern” over the troops being in Iraq, but then tell veterans that they should be there.

    Please tell me where I said Bosnia was a success. Ten years and counting, we’re still there. You love to talk about Bin Laden and Zarqawi, what about Radovan Karadzic, who is still at large?

    Be careful what you step in with your answer. I was there and saw his form of justice first-hand. …and you like to talk of atrocities by OUR troops. You have no f-ing idea.

  10. Wayne says:


    Claiming that liberals haven’t tried to tell the military how to do their jobs is ridiculous. Either you haven’t been watching the news or blogs or you blinded by your ideology.
    When I was over there we were still occasionally getting body counts from the Bosnia but the media didn’t report them like they did in our area.

    I tried to go back over at least twice now depending on how you count attempts. The criteria the Army has wouldn’t allow it because it would put me over max time in theater then current policy would allow. I even look into the route of resigning my commission and going in as enlisted or a W.O. However, I was a year over the max enlistment age of 39. I have been considering calling ARPERCEN and see if the policies have change enough to allow me back in.

    For you to call for others to volunteer when you yourself are not willing is being a chicken shit. Not that one needs to volunteer to comment on the war. It’s just lame to claim their arguments aren’t valid if they don’t but yours are.