The “I want YOU” poster featuring a rendering of Uncle Sam was a staple in military recruitment during World War I as well as to encourage the general population to support U.S. entry into the war.
His persuasive pose and marked demeanor proved to be a hugely effective tool during the war, and a staggering four million copies of it were printed between 1917 and 1918. Now 100 years later, new versions of the famous poster are being used in military recruitment as numbers reach a historic low.
Despite an increase in bonuses, loosened enlistment requirements and relaxed policies, three of the major military branches failed to meet recruitment quotas last year.
The only two to hit the mark were the Space Force and the Marine Corps, though the latter was by slim margins. The Army, Navy and Air Force didn’t come close to recruitment goals.
After my brother-in-law Connor turned over command of the unit he led in Georgia, he began to head a recruiting unit here in Waterloo while he waited for his next position to start. It was through this connection I learned how dire our military need is.
The service hit just 55,000 contracts in fiscal 2023, which ended on Sept. 30 — far short of its target of 65,000 new recruits, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told reporters at the Pentagon.
After failing to meet recruitment numbers two fiscal years in a row, the Army has the smallest active-duty force since 1940.
“Despite recruiting troubles, the retention rate is the highest it’s ever been,” Connor said. “So we’re having trouble getting people to join the military, but the people who do join like their jobs so much they stay in.”
In the 50 years since the draft was ended in 1973, the labor market and social views of the military have fundamentally changed. Even with higher enlistment bonuses and promises to pay off college debt, most young Americans are uninterested in the armed forces.
If the enlistment requirements hadn’t been loosened, our country would be at a perilously low number. According to the Military Times, in 2022, a military waiver had to be submitted for one out of every six recruits. This was the highest number in at least the last 10 years. In the Army, 29% of recruits had waivers processed.
A waiver is an action by armed forces officials to accept a recruit who is in one or more of a list of otherwise disqualifying situations.
In 2023, the Navy will miss its active duty enlisted goal by 6,000 sailors and the Air Force will fall short of its active duty enlisted recruiting goal by about 3,400 airmen.
Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Madison Mills, a 2023 Creston graduate who has now completed Army basic training and AIT (advanced individual training) in transportation. She was recruited during an archery unit set up by the Army during P.E. Thus far, she has found the experience to be rewarding mentally and physically, and she looks forward to continual learning.
“Like most people, I had never considered joining the military until I talked to someone who was serving, and that was the most valuable conversation of my life,” Connor said. “A career in the military provides you with intense pride and a sense of purpose as you get to be part of something bigger than yourself.”
There is a disconnect between veterans and civilians in the job of the armed forces. Faith in our military has gone down. A recent Gallup poll found confidence in the U.S. military is at its lowest level in over two decades, only 60% of people told Gallup they had confidence in the U.S. military.
The American withdrawal of Afghanistan was seen as a huge failure. The Taliban immediately took over, and people saw terrible footage and heard horrible stories in the wake of us leaving. But regardless, the military involved in the evacuation were heroes.
When my husband and I went to visit Connor in Georgia, we met his friend, Grace, who serves in the Air Force.
Grace was a loadmaster during the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan. Her group of airmen flew out of Kabul, Afghanistan, every 45 minutes, using a single runway, non-stop 24 hours a day. This had never been done in the entire history of aviation. Our Air Force made history. They evacuated more people in one day than was previously done in the entirety of the Saigon evacuation in 1976.
Grace was there when Kabul was attacked. She worked side-by-side with some of the 13 service members who lost their lives that day. In March, she and her team spoke with movie producers in Los Angeles about their involvement in the evacuation of Afghanistan.
Since then, Grace has run numerous marathons and Ironmans in honor of the 13 fallen. “We don’t deserve their sacrifice, but we will forever spend the rest of our lives trying to earn it,” she wrote in Facebook post. “Hug those you love today, pick up the phone and take a second a moment to appreciate all the blessings we get to have everyday.”
Connor is continuing his military service pursuing a masters degree in English at the University of Virginia. After he graduates, he will begin a three-year teaching stint at West Point where he will teach college English to cadets.
We’ve spent many holidays without Connor around, and I’ve spent birthdays and anniversaries with my husband gone on military duties. This life requires sacrifice, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“As we celebrate Veterans Day, please take the time to call your local recruiting office to speak to them about the hundreds of great careers available for you, your son or daughter, grandchild or a friend,” Connor said, “Just one conversation could change your life; it did for me.”