Concerns are growing that in the coming years, units throughout the country may not have enough soldiers to meet military requirements for overseas and other deployments as the Army National Guard is losing soldiers at a faster rate than they are recruiting, according to AP.
This year, the military effectively cut off some benefits and no longer allowed 40,000 members of the National Guard and 22,000 soldiers of the Reserve to participate in their military duties because they refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Soldiers who refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to service, and official reprimands,” Military.com reported citing an army spokesperson’s statement.
According to authorities from the National Guard who spoke with CBS News, 14,000 of the more than 40,000 members of the Guard who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 have said that they have no plans to obtain the vaccination in the future.
The National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, defended the Biden administration’s mandatory vaccination policy in the military and emphasized the significance of the COVID-19 vaccines during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”
“The vaccines are a valid military requirement. You want your troops to be ready – part of being ready is being healthy and not having the ability to infect your unit and make their unit readiness any worse than it is,” Kirby said.
Now, the National Guard struggles as troops leave at a faster pace.
For individual states, which rely on their Guard members for a wide range of missions, it means some are falling short of their troop totals this year, while others may fare better. But the losses comes as many are facing an active hurricane season, fires in the West and continued demand for units overseas, including combat tours in Syria and training missions in Europe for nations worried about threats from Russia.
According to officials, the number of soldiers retiring or leaving the Guard each month in the past year has exceeded those coming in, for a total annual loss of about 7,500 service members. The problem is a combination of recruiting shortfalls and an increase in the number of soldiers who are opting not to reenlist when their tour is up.
Maj. Gen. Rich Baldwin, chief of staff of the Army National Guard, said the current staffing challenges are the worst he’s seen in the last 20 years, but so far the impact on Guard readiness is “minimal and manageable.”
“However, if we don’t solve the recruiting and retention challenges we’re currently facing, we will see readiness issues related to strength begin to emerge within our units within the next year or two,” he said.
According to Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau, both the Army and Air Guards failed to meet their goals for the total number of service members in the fiscal year that ended last Friday. The Army Guard’s authorized total is 336,000, and the Air Guard is 108,300.
Baldwin said the Army Guard started the year with a bit more than its target total, but ends the fiscal year about 2% below the goal. Fueling that decline was a 10% shortfall in the number of current soldiers who opted to reenlist. Hokanson said the Air Guard missed its total goal by nearly 3%.