Army Secretary Talks About Recruiting Challenges, Effect of Political Polarization on Military

Christine E. Wormuth also praised Duke for its role as a top research university

Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth talks with Professor Peter Feaver

As the civilian leader of the Army, Wormuth oversees the service’s $185 billion budget and is responsible for decisions impacting nearly 1 million soldiers and more than 330,000 Army civilians.

In her remarks and fireside chat, Wormuth highlighted major issues facing the Army, including recruiting, the health of the all-volunteer force and the state of civil-military relations.

Wormuth has worked on defense and national security policy for more than 25 years, as a career civilian and as a presidential appointee. She was the undersecretary of defense for policy from 2014 to 2016, serving as the top policy advisor to the secretary of defense and representing the Department of Defense on the National Security Council’s deputies committee.

She recalled that when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke at Duke in 2010, he emphasized the strain on the military, while celebrating the expertise of the force. He also noted at that time the shifting demographics on the force.

“Much has changed since 2010,” Wormuth said, noting that the Army no longer deploys as many soldiers. But, she said, the dilemma continues with recruitment of a volunteer force in which only 1% of the U.S. population serves. The U.S Army is the largest service branch, but “the last time recruitment was met was 2014,” Wormuth said.

Secretary Christine Wormuth spoke to a large audience, including many current Duke ROTC students. Photo by Erin Scannell (Huth Photoggraphy)

Wormuth noted the labor market has shifted over time, with increasing numbers of high school graduate going to universities and not considering military service. “The Army is only able to reach a small portion of the labor market,” she said, adding that obesity among America’s youth is also a problem.

Yet Wormuth said military service and national security are of increasing importance during this challenging time.

“We live in an era of truth decay, with the erosion of civil discourse. Partisan polarization is putting the Army in the crosshairs of a culture war and trust in military is declining,” she said. “Today more than 80% of recruits come from military families. There is a risk of developing a warrior caste when only 1% of the population serves in the military.”

Wormuth described the breadth and depth of the Army, which includes engineers, data scientists, cybersecurity experts, doctors, and virtually every field – almost 200 specialties.

While Wormuth does not advise on areas such as Ukrainian or Israeli policy, she is responsible for recruitment and management of the largest service branch. Feaver and Wormuth discussed branding, social media and policies of the military – including families. Wormuth detailed a new 12-week paid parental leave policy for men and women.

As a civilian working in the military who entered the field through the Presidential Management Fellows Program, Wormuth encouraged the audience to get involved, adding that national security and foreign policy is a fascinating and meaningful field.

“Democracy is under attack in America,” Wormuth said. “Service doesn’t always require a uniform, but it does require work.”