The nation’s recruiting crisis has reportedly deepened as current and former troops discourage their loved ones from joining Recruits attend a September 2022 graduation ceremony from basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. © Getty Images / Scott Olson

The US military’s recruiting woes have reportedly intensified as current and former troops increasingly advise their family members against enlistment, weakening a tradition of multi-generation service that has historically been the nation’s primary source of new soldiers.

Veterans have soured on recommending that loved ones follow in their footsteps in the face of a tight labor market and rising concerns over low pay, debilitating injuries, suicides, and indecisive wars, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. The recruiting crisis also comes amid controversy over the Pentagon’s prioritization of left-wing issues, such as transgenderism and critical race theory.

The sudden end of the Afghanistan war in August 2021 added to the consternation of some current or former troops, such as US Navy veteran Catalina Gasper, the WSJ said. “We were left with the gut-wrenching feeling of, ‘What was it all for?’” said Gasper, who still suffers from a traumatic brain injury incurred during a Taliban attack on her base in Kabul. She vowed to do all she could to make sure her children never join the military. “I just don’t see how it’s sustainable if the machine keeps chewing up and spitting out” our young people.

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Likewise, US Air Force officer Ernest Nisperos decided that he did not want his children to join the military after realizing the toll that his deployments took on him. One of his daughters, Sky Nisperos, said that after years of dreaming about following her father and grandfather into military service, she would instead become a graphic designer. One event that stuck in her mind came during a 2019 family trip to Disneyland after her father returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. During the nightly fireworks show, he cowered in a fetal position while his family looked on.

Diminishing enthusiasm for enlistment among veterans is a troubling trend for the Pentagon because the vast majority of new troops come from military families. In fact, nearly 80% of US Army recruits have family members who have served in the military.

The Army fell 25% of its recruiting quota last year and forecast a similar shortfall for 2023. The Navy, which has a goal of nearly 38,000 enlistments this year, reportedly may miss its target by as many as 10,000 this year after posting a 3,000-recruit shortfall in 2022.

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The Pentagon faces a shallow recruiting pool, given that more than seven in ten young Americans are made ineligible for military service by issues like obesity, drug use, and mental illness. The WSJ cited a Pentagon poll indicating that only 9% of 16- to 21-year-olds would consider joining the military, down from 13% before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reports of shoddy housing, subpar medical care and physical abuse contribute to the problem, the WSJ noted. Financial struggles also are concerning, as reflected in the fact that more than 20,000 active-duty troops receive food stamps to keep their families from going hungry.

“Parents have concerns about, hey, if my kid joins the military, are they going to have good places to live?” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said. “If my kid joins the military, are they going to be sexually harassed, or are they going to be more prone to suicidal ideations?”