WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army officer tapped to be the service’s next chief of staff outlined for senators on Wednesday his plan to fix what he described as the service’s top challenge — rebuilding recruiting — as it becomes clear the Army will again fall short of its enlistment goal.
Gen. Randy George, the current vice chief of staff of the Army, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the service is looking at short- and long-term ways to improve how recruiters are chosen and deployed around the country, and to better tailor marketing to attract young people.
Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that preliminary estimates suggest the Army will recruit more than 50,000 soldiers this year, an increase over last year, but still short of it 65,000 goal. Last year the Army enlisted 45,000, missing its goal by 15,000. Recruiting this year, said McConville, could go up by 10%-20%.
McConville will step down Aug. 4, but George’s confirmation is uncertain at best, due to a Senate dispute over military nominations. More than 260 are being stalled by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who is blocking confirmation of all senior military officers to protest a Defense Department policy that pays for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care.
While senators spent a significant amount of time sharply debating the confirmation issue, they also asked pointed questions about how George would solve the recruiting shortfall.
“It’s the No. 1 challenge that we face, and the one thing that we have to be focused on,” George said, adding that young people fear that enlisting will put their lives on hold. “I can remember that I was basically told, hey, it’s going to accelerate your life. And I still use that because it was, because it has, and I think we need to get that word out.”
George said he believes the Army must better tailor its messaging and marketing based on local areas, since national ads don’t always resonate in cities or towns.
Asked what the U.S. Army has learned from the war in Ukraine, George said it has demonstrated the importance of a number of missile defense and new systems that can shoot down smaller drones. He said the Army is moving ahead with a wide range of modernization programs.
He was also asked about potential cuts to U.S. Army special operations forces. He said no decisions have been made, but the Army is reviewing the overall need for special operators since the counterterorrism fights by thousands of commandos in Iraq and Afghanistan are no longer the focus.
George is a highly decorated Army infantry solider, who commanded at all levels and did multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was commissioned at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1988 and more recently served as commander of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis McChord.
He also was the senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. He became vice chief of the Army last August. His awards including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with three oak clusters.
For the second day in a row, a Senate hearing on a new military leader devolved into a series of heated exchanges between the lawmakers over Tuberville’s block on all Pentagon nominations.
“I can’t help but comment on the futility of this hearing,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “Since we know that General George will not be confirmed any time in the foreseeable future, not because of his qualifications or his experience or his vast knowledge that he would bring to the job. But because of a hold.”
Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the committee, countered that the Democratic leader can seek a vote on George using the normal legislative process. Tuberville earlier this week blocked an effort to get a Senate vote on the confirmation of Marine Gen. Eric Smith as the next commandant.
The comments triggered a lengthy rebuttal at the end of the session by the panel’s chairman, Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
He said that voting on the more than 260 military nominations through the regular procedure, if Tuberville does not relent, would take 27 days with the Senate working “around the clock” or 84 days if the Senate worked eight hours a day.
“That is an impossible goal to achieve,” he said, adding that it would prevent the Senate from dealing with other critical bills such as the budget.
Reed also said there will be a briefing for staff next Wednesday on the abortion policy and its legality.