Republicans Double Down on 'Woke' Criticism After Army Says Safety Top Recruiting Challenge

Oath of Enlistment at Salute to Military Service football game.
Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis, Fort Jackson commanding general, administers the Oath of Enlistment to 10 enlistees and Fort Jackson active-duty soldiers during the University of South Carolina’s annual Salute to Military Service football game, Nov. 6, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Alexandra Shea)

A pair of Republican lawmakers is demanding the Army release, in full, survey findings on why young people don't want to enlist after service officials said the data showed safety concerns were the top issue -- not "wokeness," as conservatives have been insisting.

In a letter Thursday to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Reps. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., and Jim Banks, R-Ind., accused the service of "cherry-picking data to fit a narrative" and called on it to release its full findings "in the interest of transparency." The Army summarized the findings to The Associated Press, but has not released the full results.

"Wokeness at the DoD has harmed recruitment, retention and morale, wasted service members' time and taxpayer's dollars, and undermined the apolitical character of the military, which is a major threat to democracy and the American way of life," Banks said in a statement accompanying the release of the letter.

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Waltz, a retired Army Green Beret, leads the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subpanel. Banks leads the committee's personnel subpanel and is running for the Senate in 2024.

While every branch of the military struggled to meet its recruiting goals last year, the Army fared the worst, falling 15,000 recruits short of its 60,000 goal.

Despite missing its goal last year, the Army set an even more ambitious goal this year of bringing in 65,000 new soldiers. There have been positive signs at the start of the year the Army could hit the target.

In interviews with The Associated Press earlier this month, Army officials summarized the findings of surveys conducted over the spring and summer of 2,400 people aged 16 to 28 that were designed to help leaders understand why young adults don't want to enlist. But the service would not provide the full data set to the AP because of licensing agreements with contractors that prevented some details from being shared, according to the news outlet.

The Army's public affairs office did not immediately respond to's request for comment Thursday on Waltz and Banks' letter or on the survey results.

The top three reasons survey respondents cited for not wanting to join the military were fear of death, worries about post-traumatic stress disorder, and leaving friends and family, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, just 5% of respondents listed "wokeness" as an issue, according to the newswire. By contrast, 13% said they believe women and minorities will face discrimination and not get the same opportunities.

That runs counter to the narrative Republicans have built since the start of the Biden administration that wokeness is to blame for recruiting woes.

The letter marks the latest salvo in Republican plans to use their House majority to fight against what they've labeled as "wokeness" in the military. The term has become a catch-all for many Biden administration policies Republicans disagree with, but often refers to efforts to make the military more welcoming to racial minorities, women and other marginalized identities.

Banks, in particular, has vowed to use his perch on the personnel subcommittee to focus on "exposing and dismantling the Biden administration's woke agenda," and has already co-authored several letters beyond Thursday's that follow that theme. The subcommittee's first hearing under his leadership on Tuesday will be on the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on the military; the Pentagon's now-defunct COVID-19 vaccine mandate was also labeled "woke" by Republicans.

Republicans, including Waltz and Banks in their letter, have pointed to a pair of surveys commissioned by right-leaning organizations to bolster their argument. One survey, from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, found decreasing public confidence in the military was being driven by perceived politicization, though there was a partisan split with Republicans voicing concerns about wokeness and Democrats concerned about extremists. The other, from the Heritage Foundation, said 68% of active-duty military respondents reported witnessing "growing politicization" in the ranks.

"As the chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee's Readiness and Military Personnel Subcommittees, we share the goal of recruiting and retaining our nation's best and brightest for military service," Waltz and Banks wrote in their letter to Wormuth. "This issue is critical to our national security, and of great importance to the American people."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Army Sees Safety, Not 'Wokeness,' as Top Recruiting Obstacle

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