The U.S. Army plans to spend billions on recruitment incentives like upgraded enlistment bonuses, marketing and overall quality of life programs in 2024 as the service faces historic challenges in meeting force size goals, according to budget documents revealed Monday.
While the Army’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 remains mostly flat in nominal terms compared to 2023 spending, it seeks outsized funding for recruitment and retention initiatives after failing to meet recruiting targets by 25% last year, according to budget documents. The goal, leaders said at a series of briefings on Monday, is to fuel a modest increase in total force size through 2028 that’s based more on what seems achievable than what the Army would prefer.
“They believe they can come back up,” Pentagon comptroller Michael McCord said. But, “based on what they’re seeing now … that end goal is not achievable in the next year.” (RELATED: Pentagon Seeks Ways To Buy Massive Amounts Of Munitions For Conflict With China Under Biden’s Defense Budget)
“It is more informed by what seems realistic,” McCord added, explaining that all of the military branches are investing in recruiting initiatives after encountering similar, if less acute, challenges to what the Army faced.
An additional $17 billion in personnel spending compared to the previous year would support a 25% increase in recruiting and retention bonuses to $2.4 billion across the force, according to budget documents. The Army also wants $398 million in advertising and marketing funds and $12.8 million to expand the Future Soldier Prep Course, a pilot program rolled out in August that put potential recruits who fell just short the Army’s requirements for aptitude and physical fitness through a preliminary boot camp and provided academic tutoring.
As of January, at least 3,000 new recruits have emerged form the prep course.
The service also requested additional funding to invest in quality of life, including $288 million to fund five new barracks to replace ones that have fallen under scrutiny for decrepit conditions, according to Military.com.
Along with the other services, Army personnel will receive a 5.2% pay raise in 2024, higher in percentage terms than the congressionally authorized 4.6% pay raise in 2023.
“If we want to be an employer of choice and recruit and retain the nation’s best talent, we also need to make significant investments in quality of life,” Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo said.
This budget also enables us to maintain a high level of readiness by fully funding our combat training center rotations and flying hours. pic.twitter.com/MaPZBbxODJ
— Under Sec Army (@UnderSecArmy) March 13, 2023
At $185.5 billion, the Army’s overall requested budget for fiscal year 2024 is 4.6% higher than Congress’ final approved budget for the branch in 2023 but represents a real decrease of 2%, budget director Maj. Gen. Mark Bennett said Friday, according to Army Times.
Even with retention at historic levels, the Army is still planning for an end strength in 2024 that is more than 20,000 troops short of what it hoped for in 2023, when it failed to meet its goals of 473,000 active duty troops, 336,000 National Guardsmen and 189,500 Army Reserve soldiers, according to Army Times and the budget documents. In total, the Army plans for just 452,000 in the active force, 325,000 guardsmen and 174,800 reserve troops for 2024.
The planned budget for 2024 “enables us to fully fund our needs to meet the National Defense Strategy,” Camarillo said.
“We think [recruiting] is a longer term challenge,” he added.
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