After a Herculean effort to get the active-duty force up to 476,000 in 2017, the Army hit a stall in 2018: Tasked to grow by another 7,500 troops, the service ended up breaking even.

The plan was to continue with a 4,000-troop bump over the next four years until the active component hit 500,000, but the Army’s latest budget is cutting that growth in half, Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy told Army Times on Thursday.

“500K is the objective,” he said. “It’s just the pace to get there has slowed.”

Starting from this year’s 476,000 figure, the new plan is to add 2,000 a year through 2024, to hit 488,000 in the active component, with proportionate grown in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

“We want to be able to maintain high quality standards,” McCarthy said.

In the past, during surges in end strength, the Army has increased enlistment waivers for factors like misconduct or aptitude, but Army Secretary Mark Esper has repeatedly said he won’t use those tactics to get to 500,000.

In fact, he has told reporters, his decision to cut the Army’s number of lower-quality recruits from 4 percent to 2 percent last year came around the same time it became clear that the service would miss its 76,500 recruiting goal, which had already been reduced from 80,000.

Slowing down the pace of growth will give the service time to analyze whether its myriad new recruiting strategies ― using neighborhood-targeted marketing, reauthorizing use of social media, a suite of new commercials and others ― has had an affect on accessions.

“We’ve brought a lot of this online within the last six to seven months, and we just said to ourselves ... if we had a slower growth rate, we could focus in on the quality, we could get our new operating concept solid and start really firing on all cylinders,” McCarthy said.

And if recruiting really turns around, he added, there’s room to ramp up growth in the next years’ budgets.

“So for us to be at 478 by the end of this fiscal year, I’m confident at this juncture that we’ll get there,” he said.

Marketing overhaul

Fall saw the debut of the Army’s new recruiting slogan ― Warriors Wanted ― and going forward, congressionally mandated reforms to the service’s marketing team will be put into action.

Following a scathing audit of the Army Marketing and Research Group, which found that tens of millions of dollars had been spent on initiatives with no demonstrable results in recruiting numbers, the organization has been working on reform recommendations, McCarthy said.

They also, in recent weeks, submitted a report to Congress with their way ahead, after facing threats of funding cuts.

Now, he added, they’re also having monthly or twice-monthly meetings with Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to talk about how it’s going.

“I think by the end of this fiscal year, you’ll see some moves that were made to develop some new capabilities,” he said, including partnerships with outside firms.