Sky Nisperos’s grandfather came to the U.S. from Mexico, and became an American citizen by serving in the U.S. Navy. Her father, Ernest Nisperos, is an active-duty officer in the Air Force with two decades of service. For years, Sky planned to follow a similar path.
“I wanted to be a fighter pilot,” the 22-year-old said. “It was stuck in my head.”
Now, one of the most influential people in her life—her father—is telling her that a military career may not be the right thing.
The children of military families make up the majority of new recruits in the U.S. military. That pipeline is now under threat, which is bad news for the Pentagon’s already acute recruitment problems, as well as America’s military readiness.
“Influencers are not telling them to go into the military,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an interview. “Moms and dads, uncles, coaches and pastors don’t see it as a good choice.”
After the patriotic boost to recruiting that followed 9/11, the U.S. military has endured 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan with no decisive victories, scandals over shoddy military housing and healthcare, poor pay for lower ranks that forces many military families to turn to food stamps, and rising rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. . . . .
. . . . Pentagon officials see recruitment shortfalls as a crisis and pledge to hit their targets in the future to stave off making changes to the force structure.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she expects within weeks to begin drafting a proposal for a recruiting overhaul so sweeping that Congress might need to pass legislation to enact all of it.
She declined to provide details but said a key element will be to coordinate with veterans’ groups. “Right now we are not in a comprehensive, structured way leveraging our relationships with veterans organizations,” Wormuth said.
“I’ve been studying the recruiting market for about 15 years, and we’ve never seen a condition quite like this,” said a senior Defense Department official. . . . .
. . . .Today, nearly 80% of all new Army recruits have a family member who has served in uniform, according to the service. That can be a good thing, said Col. Mark Crow, director of the Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis at West Point, because “people who know the most about it stick around.”
Depending too much on military families could create a “warrior caste,” Wormuth said.
Her plans seek to draw in people who have no real connection to the military and to broaden the appeal of service.
Sky Nisperos, who moved around the world as a military brat, said that as a teen she began to see the effect of her father’s nearly dozen deployments and tours away from his family. Ernest Nisperos said he remembers being asleep when one of his kids jabbed him in the ribs to wake him. He put Sky’s sister in a wrestling ankle lock before he realized he was back home.
“My sister and I would say, ‘It’s just drill sergeant-dad mode,’ especially for the month he came back,” Sky said.
Ernest Nisperos realized his deployments, which involved battle planning and top secret intelligence, were taking a toll. In 2019, after he returned from Afghanistan, he took the family to Disneyland. During the nightly fireworks extravaganza, he cowered in the fetal position while his family and “Toy Story” characters looked on.
Sky worried her father would end up like her grandfather, the military patriarch, who in the years since he retired from the Navy started to have what the family describes as flashbacks to his time in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005, sometimes yelling that he needed to take cover from a nonexistent attack.
Her father decided he didn’t want that life for Sky and her two siblings.
The sudden and unpopular conclusion to the war in Afghanistan in 2021 added to the disenchantment of some veterans, including Catalina Gasper, who served in the Navy. Gasper said she and her husband, who spent more than two decades in the Army, used to talk to their boys, now 7 and 10, about their future service, asking them if they wanted to be Navy SEALs.
In July 2019, on her last combat deployment to Afghanistan, she was stationed at a base in Kabul when the Taliban launched an attack. The blast battered Gasper’s body and she was transported back to the U.S. for treatment and recovery.
She was left with lingering damage from a traumatic brain injury. She is sensitive to loud sounds and bright lights. She has recurrent dizziness and forgets words. She also has bad knees and herniated discs in her back.
The U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, precipitating Kabul’s fall to the Taliban. “We’re left with the gut-wrenching feeling of, ‘What was it all for?’ ” she said.
She said she was a patriot but decided she would do everything she could to make sure her kids never enter the military. “I just don’t see how it’s sustainable if the machine keeps chewing up and spitting out” our young people, she said. . . . (read more on the Wall Street Journal, or if you don’t have a subscription, here)
I had a great career in the United States Air Force. 23 years from Airman Basic – Major. I’ve no regrets about my choice.
Looking at today’s force & social media by service members, it become politicized & all about the individual not the mission.
I can’t recommend to my kids… pic.twitter.com/fOvez1a8ZS
— DANGER: DISINFORMATION (@RetiredCrimeDog) June 30, 2023
Retired US Army LTC: “No surprise in the above article – after 25 years on active duty fighting against Communism, I have recommended to many not to enlist in or seek a commission in the current regime. Why?
– You will be told to support Marxism in the form of CRT and DEI (just another name for CRT);
– You might serve in a combat zone with terrible Rules of Engagement favoring the enemy;
– If you espouse conservative, Godly values, you will be labeled an “extremist” and harassed;
– You may have to serve with mentally ill trans-humans;
– You will be told climate change is our number 1 national security threat rather than Communist China and/or the invasion of our Southern Border by illegal aliens many of which are criminals or terrorists;
– Equipment you might need to effectively deter an enemy or fight a war will not be available because it has been given to corrupt Ukraine and will take 5-8 years to replace;
– You will be (mis) led by a totally WOKE DOD and uniformed flag officers;
– You will find many of your fellow military personnel are not physically fit or on extended maternity leave leaving them exempt for deployment and you to do your and their jobs;
– You will face a huge low in overall combat readiness and morale; recruitment and retention shortfalls again putting more burdens on you; etc. etc.”