The Navy raised its maximum enlistment age to 41 on Friday for sailors joining the fleet, a nod to the current recruiting struggles plaguing the entire U.S. military.
Before last week’s policy change, the age cutoff for enlisted sailors was 39, with recruits needing to report to boot camp by their 40th birthday.
Under the change, 41-year-olds must report to recruit training by their 42nd birthday and cannot have previously served in the military.
Certain Navy communities, such as the SEAL and diver worlds, still have age cutoffs that differ from the general enlistment age, Navy Recruiting Command spokesman Cmdr. Dave Benham said in an email.
“As we continue to navigate a challenging recruiting environment, raising the enlistment age allows us to widen the pool of potential recruits, creating opportunities for personnel who wish to serve,” Benham said.
Friday’s policy change means the Navy is now accepting the oldest enlisted recruits of the four services.
The Army’s max enlistment age is 35, while the Air Force’s cap is 40. The Marine Corps’ enlisted age limit is 28, according to a U.S. government site that lays out military joining procedures.
The Navy barely made its recruiting goal for active-duty enlisted in Fiscal Year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, bringing in 33,442 sailors — just 42 bodies more than the service’s goal.
The Navy fell about 200 active-duty officers short of its FY22 recruiting efforts, and the reserves also saw shortfalls.
Recruiting in Fiscal Year 2023, which began Oct. 1, will likely be even harder, Rear Adm. Alexis Walker, the head of Navy Recruiting Command, said in a September news release.
While the Navy hit its enlisted active accessions goal for FY22, the service drained its Delayed Entry Program pool and finished the year with the lowest “DEP pool” in decades, according to the release.
The delayed entry program is supposed to allow future sailors to sign a contract while holding off on shipping to boot camp. The program is designed to help recruits acclimate to military life and provide the Navy with an added measure of regulating the flow of bodies to boot camp and follow-on training.
But today, the program pool is at “critically low levels,” according to the Navy, and a third of the remaining pool comprises high schoolers who can’t ship until they graduate in the spring.
“The Navy is expected to be in a contract-and-ship posture, where future Sailors are shipped to boot camp within weeks or even days of contracting to serve,” the Navy warned in September. “This posture is expected to persist through FY23.”
The Navy is also offering big money to attract Americans into service.
Enlistment bonuses reached $50,000 in August, and a student loan repayment plan offers repayment of up to $65,000 in debt.
“They are not mutually exclusive, so if a future Sailor maximizes both, that adds up to a life-altering $115,000, and the opportunity to serve in the world’s finest Navy,” Walker said in September’s release.
The Air Force made its FY22 recruiting goals, but like the Navy, leadership warned that they largely limped across the finish line.
The Army missed its recruiting goal by about 15,000, while the Marine Corps made its recruiting mission for FY22 but warned that harder days are ahead.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.