In Latest Recruiting Bad News, the Navy Was 7,000 Sailors Short for 2023 Despite Big Bonuses, Relaxed Entry Rules

Vice Adm. Jon Hill gives the oath of enlistment at Nationals Park
Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of Missile Defense Agency, gives the oath of enlistment to future Sailors at Nationals Park in Washington, June 2, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Vincent E. Zline)

The Navy announced Tuesday that it missed officer and enlistment recruiting goals for the second time in two years, despite taking drastic measures in its recruiting efforts.

The sea service said it managed to recruit 30,236 active-duty enlisted sailors this year -- 7,464 short of its goal of 37,700. It also fell short of its officer goal by 452, recruiting 2,080 sailors despite aiming for 2,532. In all, the Navy missed every single active-duty and reserve recruiting goal it set for itself.

Navy leaders foreshadowed some of the shortfalls in recent months when they appeared before Congress. Adm. Lisa Franchetti, who is serving as the Navy's top officer, told Congress in April the service expected to miss enlisted goals by about 6,000 sailors. By September, when Franchetti returned to Capitol Hill, that figure had grown to 7,000, though she noted that the service expected at the start of the year to be 13,000 sailors short.

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The Navy is hardly the only service struggling to meet its recruiting figures. The Army missed its recruiting goals by around 10,000 soldiers this year; last year, it missed a goal of 60,000 soldiers by 15,000. Meanwhile, the Air Force missed its targets for the first time in more than 20 years -- by nearly 3,000 airmen.

In an effort to address the recruiting struggles -- which many experts and military officials attribute to a range of causes from a competitive labor market to exceptionally challenging medical screening procedures -- the Navy has tried to get creative to get sailors to sign up.

It has taken to offering some of the largest bonuses in recent memory to get recruits through the door. The Navy's recruitment website had offered recruits $35,000 just to ship out to basic training before the fall.

The website currently boasts that recruits "who leave for boot camp before December 2023 can earn up to $140K."

The service had also recently raised the maximum enlistment age to 41, loosened entry exam rules, and spent millions on high-profile advertisements at events like the Super Bowl.

The Navy also duplicated an Army program that takes would-be recruits and gives them additional training in physical fitness and academic skills ahead of shipping them off to boot camp.

"By carefully evaluating individual circumstances and granting waivers where appropriate, such as for tattoos, single parents or positive drug and alcohol tests, the Navy was able to consider individuals who may have previously been disqualified," the service also noted in its statement.

One of the Navy's more controversial moves was an effort to increase the working hours of its recruiters to six days a week and to at least consider implementing measures to extend recruiters already in place up to a year. The backlash to that was swift, however.

Just a week later, the Navy admiral who oversees the recruiting efforts was overruled by his superiors and the six-day work week never came to pass.

In its statement announcing its figures for the year, the Navy applauded the efforts of "our talented recruiters" and noted that they "helped us close the gap on our forecasted miss by 40 percent."

The Navy says it will aim to recruit 40,600 enlisted sailors and 2,807 officers next year.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on X at @ktoropin.

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