The size of the U.S. Army is reportedly the smallest since World War II as the service continues to struggle to recruit new soldiers.
Army officials announced on Tuesday that the service had recruited almost 55,000 recruits in the 2023 fiscal year, which ended Saturday, falling short of the publicly stated goal of 65,000. The number of new recruits allows the service to meet its required total strength of 452,000 active-duty soldiers.
But the independent news group Military Times says that this is the smallest the Army has been since 1940. There were just over 269,000 soldiers in 1940, but that number ballooned to almost 1.5 million in 1941, the year the U.S. entered the World War II, according to the National WWII Museum’s website.
On Tuesday, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Gen. Randy George, its chief of staff, said the service is launching a sweeping overhaul of its recruiting following years of struggling to meet enlistment goals. It fell short of its recruiting target by about 15,000 last year.
A new professional force of recruiters will be formed, instead of using soldiers who have been randomly assigned the job.
“We are going to start using an aptitude test to make sure that the folks that we bring into the recruiting workforce have the kind of skills and attributes to be successful in what is a pretty challenging responsibility,” Wormuth told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a multi-year journey to get that in place, but we’re going to try to start moving down that road as rapidly as we can,” Wormuth added.
The Army has long relied heavily on high-school seniors and graduates to fill its ranks, but Wormuth said that pool is shrinking and the service needs to focus on people who are in college or job-hunting.
High-school graduates make up just 15 to 20 percent of the labor market, Wormuth added, and the Army gets about half of its recruits from that shrinking pool.
She wants a third of the Army’s recruits to possess more than a high-school diploma by 2028, she said. A fifth of recruits currently have more than a high-school education.
“The high-school market is still going to be very important to us,” Wormuth added. “But we’re going to formally assign our recruiters the responsibility to get a third of their new contracts from more than high-school graduates.”
Wormuth told reporters that the Army has not decided what the new fiscal year’s recruiting goal will be, but said it is likely to be fewer than 65,000 recruits.
The Navy and the Air Force also fell short of their recruitment targets in the 2023 fiscal year, The Associated Press reported, while the Marine Corps and the small Space Force said they would meet their enlistment targets.
Newsweek has contacted the Army for further comment via email.