Service members increasingly are concerned with the growing politicization of the U.S. military, recent polling shows.
In October, The Heritage Foundation established an independent panel to address political practices or policies within the Pentagon that hinder the operational effectiveness of the armed forces. [NOTE: STARRS Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop is a member of this panel]
As part of its efforts, the National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness, or NIPMSR, polled active-duty service members on how they viewed politicization within the military—and the results were telling.
Fully 68% of service members surveyed said they have witnessed either moderate or significant politicization in the military, with 65% expressing concern over it.
Further, 68% of active-duty personnel also said the increasing politicization of the military would influence whether they encourage their children to join.
This development is especially concerning, since data shows that 79% of all recruits come from families with a history of military service. If veterans become less willing to recommend the military to their kids, recruitment numbers—and thus overall operational effectiveness—will suffer.
Unfortunately, it seems the consequences of these concerns already have begun taking effect, as the military faces a dire decline in recruitment numbers.
In 2022, for example, the Army was authorized to maintain a force of 485,000 personnel; however, the yearly recruiting goals fell short by 15,000. The numbers are expected to decline further in 2023, because based on continued challenges with recruiting, Congress cut the end strength of the Army to 452,000 active-duty soldiers.
This problem is not isolated to the Army. The Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force reportedly were all nearly 50% off their normal total sign-ups at the beginning of the last fiscal year in September 2021. The military service academies also have witnessed declines in application rates.
Collectively, the military faces a recruiting crisis that threatens to take manpower levels lower than they’ve been in any year since before the beginning of World War II.
At a time when international threats are increasing, such recruiting shortfalls could risk American national security by leading to understrength units, which in turn would reduce optimal combat capabilities.
Many of the politicization concerns contributing to the recruitment crisis originate from the Pentagon’s new preoccupation with “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” or DEI.
By embracing this ideology, political figures in the Pentagon seemingly are shifting military priorities away from warfighting towards championing partisan policies and programs. DEI takes numerous forms, including lowering physical fitness requirements, such as allowing HIV-positive personnel to serve in combat zones, and teaching partisan topics in the service academies—for example, on the problem of “whiteness.”
The poll commissioned by the National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness found that:
—69% of active-duty military expressed a loss in trust after Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday promoted a book about critical race theory on his professional reading list for sailors.
—70% of respondents said the lowering of physical fitness standards had reduced their trust in the military.
—Most significantly, 80% of active personnel cited the Biden administration’s decision to allow transgender individuals to serve without restrictions as a contributing factor to their declining trust.
Another issue contributing to politicization is the Biden administration’s effort to devote significant resources toward creating a comprehensive climate change plan, which would include mandating that all nontactical military vehicles be emission-free by 2027. Fully 70% of those surveyed noted this emphasis on climate change as a core national security issue reduced their trust in the military.
The poll, conducted by Maru/Blu from Dec. 12 to 19, surveyed 301 active-duty military personnel in addition to 1,000 American adults plus 299 others between the ages of 18 and 24. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the 1,000 adults surveyed, 5.7 points for the 299 younger adults. (For a complete explanation of the methodology, go here.)
The job of the military is simple: to protect the United States and its citizens through warfighting capabilities. Although issues such as the role of greenhouse gas emissions in climate change are significant considerations, they don’t fall within the Defense Department’s mission parameters.
The increased emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion distracts the military from its mission by forcing service members to devote time to irrelevant tasks.
Some changes, including the lowering of physical fitness standards, can be outright dangerous for combat effectiveness. Individuals who entered military service by passing less challenging fitness tests may become liabilities to their units once in the field.
If the Pentagon doesn’t abandon its pursuit of partisan policies and return its emphasis solely to improving warfighting capabilities, the U.S. military may find itself weakened in an increasingly volatile international security environment.
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