At least three of our military services – Army, Navy, and Air Force – are on track to miss their 2023 recruiting goals; not just by a little, but by many thousands. While these shortfalls pose a serious risk to our nation’s military readiness, the problems in our armed services go far deeper, and suggest serious issues with the type of individuals we are allowing to serve.
Calls to prioritize diversity in recruitment and promotions, including by the Air Force general President Biden is pushing for the post of his top military advisor are not helping, nor are the lingering aftereffects of forcing thousands of active duty personnel out of the services because they refused to take the COVID inoculation as mandated in 2021.
Broadly, the shortcomings in military recruitment and retention reflect a series of fundamental changes in our nation’s culture, with fewer and fewer recruitment-age young people growing up in households in which close relatives served in the military, and a recent dramatic decline in the percent of Americans who trust and have confidence in the military, now at a disconcerting 45%.
Addressing these myriad problems by lowering recruitment standards further, however, risks making some matters worse,. For example, the Pentagon apparently has been considering discarding or at least waiving a long-standing health barrier for entry into the military – individuals who suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
In another potentially problematic maneuver designed to boost recruitment and retention, military leaders may decide that it is acceptable after all for active and reserve duty service members to use the Communist Chinese-controlled social media platform Tik Tok, overturning a ban on such use imposed by the Trump Administration.
Red flags abound, however, with regard to the security shortcomings in the quality of individuals — including civilian contractors as well as active duty and reserve military personnel — allowed access to sensitive information, locations, and activities.
Questionable practices in how the federal government protects national security information became front-page news in 2017 with the arrest of former National Security Agency contractor and Air Force veteran, Reality Winner, on espionage charges.
It was none other than former President Trump himself, however, who muddied the water about his own administration’s prosecution of Winner when he mused publicly in 2018 that her sentence after her guilty plea was “so unfair.” Such a signal emanating from the commander-in-chief makes it more difficult to pursue subsequent espionage prosecutions.
Winner now seems to have carved out a niche as an expert in her own right on the handling of national security materials, being interviewed last month by NBC News as a critic of Trump’s alleged mishandling of national security materials at his Mar-a-Lago hotel.
A more serious, and still unfolding case of mishandled national security materials and access thereto, is that involving Air National Guard reservist Jack Teixeira. The 21-year-old Massachusetts guardsman faces federal espionage charges for disclosing a massive amount of sensitive and classified national security and diplomatic material on social media. Despite obvious red flags in Teixeira’s background, he was allowed to serve as a Guardsman and afforded extensive access to highly classified materials with apparently little oversight.
Not surprisingly, and as with the Reality Winner case, Trump’s cavalier approach to national security classification procedures has surfaced in pleadings and statements by Teixeira’s attorneys, who are using the Mar-a-Lago case as a reason to have their client released pending his trial.
Troubling as are these cases involving the loose standards whereby the government recruits individuals to serve in the military and to be granted access to classified information, the most recent case of Army Private 2nd Class Travis King, takes the cake in terms of questionable U.S. military recruitment and security criteria.
Private King had been stationed in South Korea. Local authorities arrested him on assault charges. He was being transferred back to the United States for discharge from the Army. Despite such circumstances, he was somehow able to join a group of tourists viewing the highly controlled border crossing at Panmunjom, and then run – laughing – into North Korea. Makes you wonder about not only his intelligence, but the Army’s lax security in such a sensitive area. Wonder, indeed.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.