NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — To improve recruitment, the sea service must broaden the young people it is targeting to join, according to the Navy Reserve’s top officer.

All of the services are facing difficulties with recruiting, due to factors that include fewer Americans being eligible to serve, the low civilian unemployment and more thorough medical screenings, according to service leaders.

To counter the downtrend, the service needs to look beyond its coastal hubs to find potential recruits who may not be as familiar with the Navy but can meet eligibility requirements, including more thorough medical screenings, Vice Adm. John Mustin, the chief of the Navy Reserve, said Wednesday at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference here.

“As we began to look into the forensics of why was recruiting so challenging this year, relative to prior years, part of what I realized, too, is it’s not enough for us to scream in the echo chamber of the people who are already invested in our service,” Mustin said. “We’ve got to reach folks who are not aware of what the Navy is, and why the Navy is a great alternative to whatever they’re doing now.”

“We, as a bicoastal maritime nation, have a long history with the Navy. That message doesn’t get out necessarily to the breadbasket of America,” Mustin said. “We don’t have a problem messaging to fleet concentration areas like Norfolk or San Diego — it’s tougher if we’re talking about Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or Nebraska.”

Mustin’s comments come as the Navy is seeking to increase its enlisted end strength. In its FY24 budget request last month, the department asked Congress to approve an active naval force of 347,000 enlisted sailors and officers — up from the estimated 341,736 sailors serving this fiscal year.

The Navy hit its active duty enlisted recruitment goals for FY22, but doing so required it to drain its Delayed Entry Program pool to its lowest levels in 40 years. The program allows recruits to join the Navy prior to their shipping date.

The service failed to reach accession targets for active duty officers, as well as Navy Reserve officers and enlisted personnel, in FY22.

Recent efforts aimed at improving recruitment include offering future sailors or veterans who re-up right now the opportunity to combine the maximum enlistment bonus with a maximum student loan repayment for a total of $115,000 — if they ship out before June. The Navy first introduced the policy last year and extended it to FY23.

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