Aden Gilbert grew up watching war movies, fighting enemy combatants in video games and listening to his dad’s Marine Corps stories. He considered following in his father’s footsteps but changed his mind as he saw the country and its leadership heading in a direction antithetical to his values.
“If we’re prioritizing being woke, and we can’t actually protect the majority of American people . . . what’s the point of having a military?” Gilbert asked Fox News. “Is it really worth joining and putting our life on the line for ideologies that we don’t agree with and that we don’t want to necessarily protect?”
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Military children have historically been more likely to serve their country than their peers. Ten years ago, more than a quarter of new recruits had a parent who had served, and around 80% reported having at least one family member who had done so, according to a Pentagon survey.
“It was something that a man of honor would do, to serve and protect his country and serve and protect those values that existed back then,” Gilbert, 18, said. “But I think things are a little bit different now.”
The military is struggling to fill its ranks as young people like Gilbert forgo service. The Marine Corps and Space Force are the only branches that anticipate meeting their enlistment goals this year. The Army, Navy and Air Force expect to fall a combined 26,000 enlistees short in fiscal year 2023. The Army also fell short in 2022 by about 15,000 soldiers (25% of its goal).
Military officials have pinned much of the blame for lackluster recruitment numbers on a competitive job market and a dwindling pool of qualified applicants. Only 9% of young Americans are interested in serving their country, according to the Department of Defense.
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Gilbert said the military is alienating the very men and women who are most likely to serve by emphasizing progressive ideologies over readiness. A recent Navy recruiting pitch featured a drag queen, and last year the branch released a video stressing the importance of pronouns.
“I would rather tiptoe around literal landmines than have to tiptoe around people’s pronouns,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert has always considered himself a patriot, but said the left has “successfully eroded patriotism” by pushing restrictive laws, “woke” ideology and “celebrating satanic themes in music and Hollywood.”
“It just angers me seeing our president as the conductor of that symphony of sewage,” he added.
Jason Gilbert, Aden’s dad, said he never pushed his children in one direction or another when it came to enlisting. But he wasn’t surprised when his son changed his mind about joining.
“I could see he was a little bit demoralized about the direction the country was going,” said the elder Gilbert, who founded the Disabled Veterans PAC and helps former service members run for office.
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“When we hear the word ‘pride,’ we’re now programed to instinctively think of the rainbow flag, whereas the generations before me, when they heard the word ‘pride,’ they thought of the American flag,” the younger Gilbert said. “And now to the left, that’s considered offensive.”
He said he’s “not moved to serve a commander in chief who seems to value the rainbow flag over the American flag” and “labels white supremacy and climate change as the top national security threats in our country, yet never once has denounced Marxism.”
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth acknowledged last month that there was “no doubt” that the perception that the military has gone “woke” is exacerbating recruiting woes.
“We are a ready Army, not a ‘woke’ Army,” Wormuth told reporters in June.
But the branch’s top civilian leader blamed the problem on rhetoric rather than military policies.
Financial incentives to join the military hold less sway, too. Fewer students are pursuing higher education, making the GI Bill less appealing to him, and he started his own social media marketing business during his senior year of high school.
“Until the values sent forward by the president, that the military is tasked to defend, revert back to the core values that our founders and the past generations died for . . . I’m just going to stick with my decision to decline military service to instead run my business,” Gilbert said.
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