For the second consecutive year, new recruit sign ups for the Wisconsin National Guard are down. However, this years numbers are off - way off - and it comes at a time when they've perhaps been the most active in their history.

According to statewide statistics shared by the Wisconsin National Guard, those new recruit sign ups are down "nearly 50 percent from the organizations goal".

Goal numbers for 2022 for 950; the unit finished last year only taking on 577 new people. Current pacing for 2023 shows they'll miss the goal of 1,064 by at least 50 percent.

That has many worried - especially when the unit has been pressed into service more than ever before. An article in the Superior Telegram [paywall] explains:

"Members of the Guard saw extraordinary duty in 2020  They helped staff polling places around the state when the pandemic required additional precautions and limited public poll workers. They helped staff COVID-19 testing sites. And they were part of the state's response to unrest and rioting in cities in the summer of 2020 when some protests became violent."

All of that led to "the largest sustained domestic mobilization in [their]....history".

Wisconsin's number problem mirrors what's going on nationally, although total U.S. recruits are faring better than the Badger State. Last year "the U.S. Army fell short of its 2022 recruitment goals by about 25 percent, or 15,000 soldiers".

So what's driving the fall off in people interested in the National Guard? While its difficult to point the finger at one particular thing, it's more than likely a combination factors.

First - unemployment has been low for the last couple of years and the robust job market is more than likely "stealing away" recruits who potentially would have signed up in the past. Lt. Colonel Shannon Hellenbrand explains:

"We have a really low unemployment rate here in Wisconsin...and a really high labor participation rate, which means there aren't a lot of people seeking employment lately."

Meanwhile, with schools closing - due to the Pandemic a regular avenue for recruitment was closed off. That led to a loss of momentum for the National Guard - both nationally and locally (in Wisconsin).

Additionally, the National Guard asks a lot of its rank - which is something that many people are less attracted to these days. Hellenbrand continues:

"We have tough training requirements that are both physical and mental. We also have really rigorous enlistment standards. [Additionally]....the Guard limits recruits by age, physical fitness, and 'moral and legal standards', all of which can be intimidating for some potential recruits."

As a way to alleviate some of those internal stumbling blocks, the National Guard has tried different incentives - including flexibility with activation times, alternative training schedules, and even accomodations for child care.

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