Debra Sweet | June 16, 2023
We’ve been following the difficulties of the US military in reaching recruitment goals, without sympathy. Those problems are not something to passively applaud, but to actively foster and learn from.
The comments by Christine Wormuth, the Secretary of the Army, in a June 11 NPR interview on this “serious situation,” are outrageous. But they’re also so revealing that we’ve got to share in full, but here are some essential take-aways from the mouths of the war-makers:
▪️ If you’re worried about being deployed to a war and getting killed, that’s so over. Now, we’re just training other country’s fighters to do that!
▪️To women who fear the high rate of sexual assault inside the military – it’s better because now there’s a new Special Office of Trial Counsel.
▪️To women who get based in one of the 40% of U.S. bases with no access to abortion – the military will fly you elsewhere to get care, and won’t even make you use vacation days! Besides, you have 12 weeks of parental leave…
Even the NPR host didn’t seem very convinced by these arguments. As you read or listen, think about what openings the military’s problems provide for those seeking justice and about what we should be saying to potential recruits. The speakers for WeAreNotYourSoldiers.org will be interested in hearing from you on this.
▶️ LISTEN HERE.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: The Army is struggling to convince people to join the service. It missed its recruitment target last year by about 15,000 people, and US Army Secretary, Christine Wormuth, called it a quote “serious situation.” This year, she’s been meeting with student school leaders and recruiters, and she’s with us now to tell us more. Secretary Warmoth. Thank you so much for being here.
CRISTINE WORMUTH: It’s great to be with you.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: What are these young people and school leaders telling you when you meet with them?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: When we asked kids about, you know, what are the barriers to thinking, about joining the Army, they tell us fear of death or injury, fear of leaving friends and family, leaving home. They think somehow the Army will put their life on hold.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: How do you get past that fear that people have, which is a reality of going into the military?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: You’re right. That absolutely is a reality, and there’s no way to get around that, but what we focus on is, you know, guaranteeing our soldiers that they will get the absolute best training possible. They will have the absolute best equipment possible with which to fight; they will have the absolute best medical care available if they are injured. But I think it’s also important to remind people, you know, that we are not in a period like we’ve been in, in the last 20 years where we had tens of thousands of soldiers deployed and actively fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, the vast majority of young people who join, their chances of actually being injured or killed are very small.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: The post 9/11 wars, do you feel like that has deterred some young people from wanting to join?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: I think it has. I think a lot of young people may think that if they join the Army, you know, they’re immediately going to be sent to some foreign country and immediately be sent into combat. But a lot of what we’re doing today is working with our allies and partners all around the world to build up the capacity of their militaries. We do things like obviously going to Europe to be with our NATO allies to deter Russia from coming any further than they’ve already come in Ukraine.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: The Army has always been a place to go for people who may not have all of the economic resources to, you know, better themselves and get more money in society. What does the Army offer now with the economy doing relatively well?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: Certainly, the competition has intensified, you know, unemployment is very low, as you said, and a lot more companies and the private sector are offering more comprehensive benefits than they used to. You know, I think one of the biggest benefits we have is the GI bill which pays for college, you know, in its entirety, and we have, you know, terrific healthcare, 12 weeks of paid parental leave. There’s also I think the intangibles of the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself. And in the studies, we’ve done of young people today, community and purpose are something that Generation Z and Generation A are really yearning for, and I think, you know, that is the Army in spades.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: And so let’s turn to the recruitment of women and other diverse groups in the army. There are all these battles over access to reproductive health care, and there are battles over LGBTQ rights, and in some states, some may not feel safe to be based in places where they feel like they may not get proper care, or they feel like their identity may come under attack. How do you deal with those sorts of challenges?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: But we want anyone who wants to serve, and is qualified and physically fit enough to serve, to be able to serve in our army. So we do have training that is focused on building cohesive teams, making sure that our soldiers know how to treat each other. Frankly, and you know, we spend a lot of time working on preventing sexual assault, sexual harassment. You know, we have really, I think, tried to focus on that in the last couple of years.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: What specifically is the Army doing to make sure that recruits are protected?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: First of all, I think key to driving down the incidences of sexual harassment and sexual assault is engaged leadership: officers and NCOs who know their soldiers, know what’s going on in their lives, and you know, making sure that when if there starts to be any kind of warning signals that the leadership can get on top of that. You know, in the intense years of the war on terror, we may not have been focused on that as much as we should have. The second thing I would say we’re doing is really training our soldiers to know what right looks like. The third thing that we’re really focused on is how we’re responding to these reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault. And soldiers in the past I think didn’t always feel confident that a leader in a unit would do the right thing if they had to essentially choose between two soldiers. So now we have a new Office of Special Trial Counsel. Those crimes are now prosecuted, if you will, entirely separately, and and our hope is that we’ll rebuild some trust and confidence in our system and encourage people to come forward If they have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: For women who may be interested in joining the Army but are concerned that they may be stationed in a place where they would not have access to an abortion, is that something that the Army is thinking about?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: 40% of our female soldiers now, you know, would be stationed in states that have limited or highly restricted access to some reproductive healthcare services. They can take leave and not have it be deducted from their vacation leave, if you will, and the department will also pay for travel to a state where they can get the reproductive services that they need.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: There are some Republicans, like Indiana’s Jim Banks and Florida’s Mike Waltz, who have accused the Department of Defense of being too quote “woke.” What do you say to those criticisms?
CRISTINE WORMUTH: You know, we are not a woke Army. We are a ready Army. Our focus in the United States Army is on training, war fighting, and lethality. We are just not focused on woke-ism, if we could even all agree on what that even means. And it’s not an issue either, in terms of the young people who are looking at joining the United States military. You know, I would welcome any member of Congress to come and visit an Army installation whether it’s here in the United States or overseas and see what we’re doing.
NPR’s AYESHA RASCOE: That is US Army. Secretary Christine Wormuth, thank you so much for being here with us.
CRISTINE WORMUTH: Great to be with you.