The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on military recruiting, shutting down and limiting in-person interactions at high schools and colleges that are typically the center of recruiting efforts for service branches. Combine that with the labor shortage that has created an ultra-competitive job market, and fewer young men and women are choosing military service. To address the issue, the U.S. Army has raised its maximum enlistment bonus to $50,000, the highest amount ever. That bonus is offered to certain highly-skilled recruits who enlist for six years. The Army's head of recruiting says they understand for many people in the current environment, "it's all about compensation."
The new recruiting efforts come as the military is removing, or has threatened to remove, current service members who do not comply with COVID vaccine mandates. "The Department of Defense is the one that said if you're not vaccinated, then you can't serve, which I think is a terrible decision for them to make," says Mike Berry with the First Liberty Institute, who is suing the Pentagon on behalf of service members who have challenged the vaccine mandate.
So far, the Marines have reportedly discharged more than 200 members over vaccine mandates, and the Air Force recently kicked out 27 active duty members. The Army says it has so far sent about 3,000 written reprimands to unvaccinated soldiers, and relieved six active-duty leaders from command.
At the same time military leaders complain about recruiting, they haven't granted a single religious exemption to the vaccine mandates, despite some ten thousand requests. "The vast majority objecting to the vaccine have gone on record saying that they object for sincere religious reasons," says Berry. "For those who make sacrifices every day to defend our freedoms, it's abhorrent to the Constitution to think they now stand the possibility of losing the very freedoms they're trying to protect."
While the military offers more money to lure new recruits, Berry and his clients await a resolution to their legal action. "We'll just have to see whether they really are going to begin kicking out service members who object to this vaccine, that has not proved to be very effective," he says.