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National Security Desk / Jul. 23, 2019

Military Recruitment Down, So Recruit Younger?

There are proposals floating around for lowering the recruitment age to 16.

One of the few negative aspects of having a thriving economy is its impact on the military’s recruitment levels. In a good economy with high employment, fewer adults opt for military service. Such is the dilemma the U.S. military currently faces as it seeks to maintain its ranks. As The Washington Times reports, “Last year, the Army fell short of its recruiting goal for the first time in a decade. The Army had set a goal of 76,500 recruits and pulled in just under 70,000, according to Defense Department figures.”

One suggestion that has been floated is to lower the minimum enlistment age from 17 to 16. Proponents note that over a dozen other countries, including the United Kingdom, have already adopted such a practice. The reason for lowering the recruitment age by one year has everything to do with eligibility. As Shane McCarthy, chief marketing officer of Sandboxx, explains, “According to the Department of Justice, there are twice as many arrests of 18 to 20-year-olds as there are arrests of 15 to 17-year-olds.”

However, the idea has drawn a fair share of criticism. Peter Warren Singer, a fellow at the Washington think tank New America, suggests that the idea reveals a “misunderstanding [of] the different brain chemistry of youths and their ability to make informed judgement.” Others point out that there has been little research as to the overall impact of recruiting 16-year-olds into military service.

Rebecca Burgess, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that the U.S. military will need to adapt its recruitment marketing to better compete in a changing market place, “something the military doesn’t do very well.” She adds, “It tells the story of itself that’s very traditional: ‘We’re freedom fighters doing good throughout the world; be part of our team.’ And it expects people to kind of come to them.”

In the end this competition is a good thing, forcing innovation and rethinking, which in turn will produce a better product. The current strong economy provides the military a challenging opportunity for evaluating and innovating its recruiting practices.

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