Ernst working to improve military recruitment numbers

Sen. Joni Ernst wants to improve numbers for military enlistments and patriotism among young Americans.


Emily Nyberg

Iowa senator Joni Ernst is seen in her office in Russle Senate Office Building in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

Hannah Pinski, Executive Editor

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, wants to improve military recruitment as the number of people enlisting in the armed forces has dropped dramatically in the past 10 years. 

The U.S. army fell short of about 15,000 soldiers to meet its 60,000 goal for recruiting target in 2022, and Ernst said factors such as a smaller pool of qualified applicants and lack of patriotism among the younger generation are factors contributing to the dramatic shortfall. 

According to the U.S. Army’s website, requirement categories include age, medical, moral, and physical status, and the test score on the Army’s Placement Exam. 

Most able-bodied men were able to join the military during the 1960s and 70s. But in recent years, 75 percent of 18 – 22-year-old men aren’t qualified to join the armed forces and are stopped by factors like obesity and having a criminal record. 

Ernst said only about 23 percent of 18 – 24-year-olds will pass all the requirements, which is not easy. 

“Some of them also will have criminal histories that disqualify them from service,” Ernst said.  “So, understanding that that pool is getting much smaller, how do we motivate people and of the 23% that do qualify for military service.” 

The scramble isn’t just to find qualified people who can enlist  — it’s also finding people who actually want to join. 

NBC News previously reported that only 9 percent of young Americans who meet the qualifications have an interest in enlisting in 2022, which was the lowest number in 2017. According to the survey, 57 percent of young Americans also reported concerns about having emotional or psychological problems after they serve. 

Ernst served as a logistic officer and earned the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. She said wants to increase patriotism and help young Americans understand that the U.S. has opportunities that other countries don’t have.

In 1998, 70 percent of Americans said they cared about patriotism, but under 40 percent of Americans felt like patriotism was important in 2022, according to a poll done by the Wall Street Journal and NORC at the University of Chicago

“I want young people to know and understand we live in such an incredible country, an incredible country,” Ernst said. “And this country gives opportunities to everyone, regardless of who you are, whether you’re straight or gay, whether you’re Black or white, there’s incredible opportunity out there. And you don’t find those same opportunities in other countries.”  

Ernst said that one of the overall factors as well as the base pay. A full-time enlisted soldier’s lowest base salary is $23, 011.20 for someone with less than two years of experience, and the largest is $35,766 for a staff sergeant, according to the U.S. military website. 

“When you look at young people today, they can go to maybe a Scooter’s coffee shop, or they can work at a convenience store for probably more than a young private going into the army base,” Ernst said. “So it’s a struggle to be able to pay them what we truly do believe is a valuable service.”