The Defense Department wants to bridge the widening military-civilian gap, the Pentagon’s top personnel official told the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.

In prepared remarks, Anthony M. Kurta — performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness — said DOD’s ability to sustain the all-volunteer force is predicated on meeting annual recruiting goals, regardless of the recruiting environment.

“Today, a widening military-civilian divide increasingly impacts our ability to effectively recruit and sustain the force,” he said. “This disconnect is characterized by misperceptions, a lack of knowledge and an inability to identify with those who serve. It threatens our ability to recruit the number of quality youth with the needed skill sets to maintain our advantage over any near-peer competitor.”

Kurta said the divide has been exacerbated by a shrinking military footprint in the United States, a declining veteran population and “uninformed and often misguided” messages from organizations or media on the risks of military service. “Combined, these factors have led to a youth market which is less interested in the military and does not appreciate the social worth or intrinsically-motivating elements of military service,” he said.

DOD surveys show an increasingly disconnected youth market with declining positive associations about military service.

Kurta noted that only 12% of youth believe they share a lot in common with people in the U.S. military. In 1995, 40% of youth had a parent who had served; and in 2017, that percentage was 15.

Basic knowledge about the military is lacking, with only 27% of youth able to name all five services. A majority of youth believe that those who serve and then separate will have some form of psychological or emotional issues, difficulty readjusting to everyday life, or some form of physical injury, Kurta said.

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