WASHINGTON — The Army failed to meet its recruitment goal for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 — a missed mark that top Army officials downplayed as the service kicked off its annual extravaganza of weapons wish list and deep think talk.
“We did not meet the [numbers] for this year,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, told reporters Monday at the annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) meeting and exposition in Washington. He said recruitment fell short by 6,500 recruits.
In April, Army Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters the service branch was lowering its recruiting goals for the year — from 80,000 new active-duty to 76,500.
That lower mark was the one that was missed.
“We are not going to sacrifice quality for quantity,” Milley said. “We could have easily met the numbers if we were just looking for numbers.”
Milley attributed the “one percent” miss to a nearly 50-year record low unemployment rate, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday fell to 3.7 percent in September. “We had a couple of good (recruiting) years,” he said.
The Army plans to send additional recruiters out, including to often overlooked urban areas such as New York City and Chicago. Neither Milley nor Esper, who joined him at the press conference, could say how many new recruiters will be deployed or to where.
This year’s AUSA conference theme is “Ready Now, More Lethal Tomorrow,” keyed to highlight the imperative of meeting the Pentagon’s new defense doctrine that returns to the idea of possible conflict with Russian and China. There are roughly 700 exhibitors and 10 international pavilions at the three-day conference, which ends Wednesday, according to AUSA.
Milley said the Army has more than 180,000 personnel deployed in 140 countries.
He said boosts in defense spending approved by Congress “stopped the bleeding” in deteriorating readiness. “There was a downward slope in all of the metrics that measure readiness,” Milley said. He said there is an “upward swing” now that should return readiness to the winning metrics by 2020.
“You are not going to modernize an army in 12 to 36 months,” he said.
Milley and Esper said fitness and deployability are key elements of the readiness foundation. This month, some soldiers will begin field development of the new Army Combat Fitness Test. Esper said the test is designed to ensure those in the field can do life-or-death tasks such as carrying a comrade to safety.
The test will be standard by 2020. So too will be new rules concerning deployability; if a soldier is undeployable for two years, he or she will be mustered out.
“We got to get this Army hard and get it hard fast,” Milley said.
Esper has said the Army is seeking six things: long-range precision fires, a ground combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, air and missile defense, soldier lethality and “an impenetrable network,” according to Army materials.
Milley said the Army is committed to a new rifle and a new automatic weapon (commonly called a machine gun). Both will use 6.8 caliber rounds; some have questioned its suitability. Milley, however, said it is more accurate, more lethal, faster, can travel greater distances and could penetrate any body armor currently known.
However, he said the new weapons would “probably be pretty expensive” and thus would not be fielded for the entire force. He said the plan is to begin testing next summer.