For the first time in 13 years, the U.S. Army has been unable to meet its annual goal of 76,500 new recruits, ABC News reported Monday. It recruited just 70,000 people in fiscal year 2018.

Hank Minitrez, an Army spokesperson, emphasized that 70,000 new recruits are “the most to enlist in a single year since 2010” and “every single recruit either met or exceeded DoD standards.” Still, this number was 8.5 percent short of the goal set by the Department of Defense.

ABC also reported that “[t]he 70,000 is actually more than the recruiting goals for the three other military services combined, but as the largest service, the Army always has the biggest recruiting challenge.”

Minitrez cites an improved economy as the reason for the shortfall, telling ABC, “A strong economy and a lower propensity among the population of 17- to 24-year-olds to enlist are challenges we face.”

The last time the Army could not make its recruiting goal was 2005, which, as ABC notes, was “at the height of the Iraq war.”

When it didn’t meet its goals that year, the Pentagon adjusted its recruiting standards, accepting more recruits who did not have high school diplomas and who scored in the 10th to 30th percentiles on its aptitude tests. It also raised the maximum age of enlistment to 42 from 40 for the following year.

From 2013 to 2017 the Pentagon had lower new recruitment targets of 56,000 to 67,000 per year. This made it easier to meet the goals. ABC also explains that the Army got pushback for the lower standards and numbers:

The service faced criticism that in order to meet its goals it was increasing the number of waivers granted to some recruits who would normally not be eligible to enter the Army in strong recruiting periods.

Through August, 2018, Army statistics show that the number of waivers for positive drug and alcohol tests had increased to 1.05 percent, up slightly from the .79 percent granted in 2017.

Waivers for major misconduct waivers also increased to 2.88 percent during that same time frame, up from 2.38 percent in 2017.

Senior Army leaders told The Associated Press that recruitment will now have a greater focus on social media and recruiters will be active at sports competitions and gaming contests.

Minitrez is adamant that standards will not be lowered, saying, “We made a decision to raise the quality of our recruits despite the tough recruiting environment. … As we look to 2019 and beyond, we have laid the foundation to improve recruiting for the Army while maintaining an emphasis on quality over quantity.”

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