The Army expects to make its recruiting goal of 62,000 soldiers annually in 2016 and 2017, but recruiters will face "significant challenges due to lower entry pools and a more competitive recruiting environment," according to budget materials submitted to Congress in early February.
While the Army achieved its active component accessions mission of 59,000 soldiers for fiscal 2015, it began the annual recruiting campaign with only 16,500 young people under contract, the smallest delayed entry pool in seven years.
The entry pool for fiscal 2016 was even smaller, with only 15,207 people committed to future enlistment on Oct. 1.
As of mid-February, the year-to-date enlistment total for the Regular Army stood at 21,004 soldiers, which is one-third of the annual requirement, according to statistics provided by Recruiting Command.
"Improving economic conditions, reduced incentives and tightened policy restrictions are proving to be significant challenges to meeting mission goals," the Army cautioned it its budget submission.
Despite those challenges, the quality of the incoming cohorts has been high, with 98 percent of the recruits having earned a traditional high school diploma.
In a further measure of quality, more than 60 percent of non-prior-service young people who enlisted in 2015 scored in the 50th percentile or higher of the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which is a measure of recruit aptitude.
"Nationally, the decline in high graduation rates and increasing obesity levels (among young people) have challenged the Army to strategically deal with the changing societal norms," according to the budget document.
Service officials also told lawmakers that the implementation of upgraded test score norms "may impact quality achievement in the future as enlistment standards will increase."
The Army uses enlistment bonuses of up to $40,000 to attract applicants for specialties that are difficult to fill with qualified recruits, such as intelligence, health services, communications and electronics, administration, air defense and field artillery.
About 44,000 recruits are expected to receive bonuses this year, and another 45,000 in 2017, according to the budget materials. These totals are considerably higher than the 32,000 new bonus contracts issued in 2015 when 15,000 young people enlisted for the Regular Army.
Federal law allows the Army to pay up to $40,000 for enlistments, with payments spread over the life of the enlistment.
Army policy authorizes up to $10,000 to be paid initially in a lump sum after a soldier has completed basic training and initial skill training. Soldiers who are eligible for a bonus of more than $10,000 receive anniversary payments in equal installments over the remaining years of the enlistment.