We know the military is 80% of our local economy. Eglin AFB, servicemen, and related personnel are essential to the economic health of Okaloosa County. There are issues posing a threat to the economic stability of not only our community but the country as a whole.
Last year, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and chief of staff of the Army Gen. James McConville wrote the Army would end the fiscal year with close to 20,000 fewer soldiers than the budgeted target. The total number of soldiers could further decrease from 466,400 to 445,000-452,000 by the end of the 2023 fiscal year.
The official website of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command states 71% of youth do not qualify for military service because of obesity, drugs, physical and mental health problems, misconduct, and aptitude. Fifty percent of youth admit they know little to nothing about military service and only 1% of the population currently serves. The veteran population is declining.
The Army has tried raising enlistment bonuses and expanding location-of-choice options. At one point they tried to waive the high school GED requirement but reinstated it one week later.
Last year Flying Magazine reported The U.S. Air Force was short 1,650 pilots and brought back retired pilots to help fill staffing gaps created by a lack of company-grade officers. Airlines pay better and are offering substantial signing bonuses.
Military officials have recently stated that we are in danger of not having enough weapons for the United States while we keep sending more to Ukraine.
Here is just one rather alarming statistic from The Government Accountability Office (GA):
- F-35 aircraft comprise a growing portion of DOD's aviation fleet. DOD currently has 450 F-35s, and plans to procure about 2,500 in total. However, the F-35 fleet's average mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the F-35s can fly and perform at least one mission—declined between FY 2020 and FY 2021. One major reason is that an increasing number of F-35s don't have a working engine.
While the above-stated reasons for the lack of meeting recruiting goals are certainly valid, there are other factors to consider. Do we understand the results of too few military soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines, not to mention weapons and planes?
I was talking with a neighbor before Christmas. His son is retiring from the Marine Corps. His entire unit is retiring. Why? Because they were constantly deployed with no time for family life. They were constantly deployed because of the lack of personnel creating this vicious cycle.
I also heard some retiring pilots talking. They were getting huge bonuses from the airlines. They were also lamenting the pervasive politics now in the military.
I spoke to a prominent Special Forces officer recently. He loved the service but the political agenda in the military is what made him retire. He said it created double standards, resentment, division, lack of discipline, and therefore, lack of readiness.
More than 8,400 servicemen were discharged because they would not take the vaccine. The mandate has been rescinded but many religious and medical exemption approvals are still pending. Members of the House of Representatives in Washington are trying to get reinstatements and back pay for discharged servicemen.
Lowering standards and offering money may be short-term ways to help recruiting efforts but there are many serious underlying issues to address to not only maintain economic stability in military communities but to ensure military readiness for the security of our country. Separating military personnel staying in the area and filling available jobs is a positive result for our community but we must also maintain a robust military.