A lawmaker from the House Armed Services Committee grilled Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro Wednesday about how the Navy plans to rectify its challenges recruiting new sailors, after the service missed its recruitment goals for the first time ever in fiscal year 2023.

Difficulties attracting new recruits have persisted, and the Navy is expected to miss its accessions goal of 40,600 new sailors by roughly 6,700 this fiscal year. And while the other services hit at least 90 percent of their recruiting targets the first half of fiscal year 2024, the Navy obtained less than 70 percent of its recruiting goals in that span of time.

“Why do you think the Navy has had so much more trouble hitting its recruiting goals than the Army or the Air Force?” Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday. “I don’t like the Navy losing to the Army or the Air Force in anything, especially when it comes to recruitment. Why are we struggling so much more than the other branches?”

Del Toro explained that the Navy has increased its recruitment goals for fiscal year 2024 — up from the 37,700 target for the fiscal year 2023.

“We’re striving to meet our goals,” Del Toro said. “I think that’s an admirable challenge, right? We’re trying to make up for the shortages that we had in previous years, because it’s all about filling billets at sea, is what it’s all about.”

“I would love to have a Secretary of the Navy come before us and talk about how you’re disappointed that you’re not reaching your goals and what you’re going to do to reach them,” Banks said.

Banks then pressed Del Toro on what the Navy would do to meet its goals. In response, Del Toro said that the service is on track to fill all of its recruiter billets in the near future, and is implementing lessons from the Marine Corps. Likewise, he noted that the service is faring better this year than it did last year.

“You haven’t given me a single concrete answer to how you’re going to meet those recruits,” Banks said.

“I think I’ve given you many concrete answers,” Del Toro said.

“A lot of hot air,” Banks said.

The Navy recruited a total of 9,883 new sailors in the first half of fiscal 2024 — approximately 66.5 percent of the service’s recruitment target for that time period, the Department of Defense reported.

In comparison, the Army obtained more than 94 percent of its recruitment target, while the Air Force, Marine Corps and Space Force all either met or exceeded their recruitment targets the first portion of the fiscal year.

In response to these recruiting challenges, the Navy has introduced multiple reforms in recent years. Most recently, the service announced in January that those without a high school diploma or General Educational Development credential could enlist, so long as they score a 50 or higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

The Navy last allowed these applicants to sign up over 20 years ago, and estimates it could garner up to 2,000 more sailors annually. It is the only service to allow those without a high school diploma to enlist.

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