The 2024 US military will be the smallest since before WWII

Miguel Ortiz
Dec 19, 2023 1:42 PM PST
Reviewed byTessa Robinson
2 minute read
(U.S. Army)

(U.S. Army)


Down nearly 64,000 troops in the last three years, America’s military will be the smallest since before the start of WWII, shining a spotlight on the military recruiting crisis.

The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by both houses of Congress, outlines the forecasted strength of the U.S. military in fiscal year 2024. Under end strength levels outlined in the bill, the number of active duty troops will shrink to 1,284,500. Down nearly 64,000 troops in the last three years, America's military will be the smallest it has been since before the start of WWII, shining a spotlight on the military recruiting crisis.

Men apply at an Army recruiting office in New York, June 1940 (National Archives)

The last year that the military was smaller than 1.28 million active duty personnel was 1940 with a total strength of 458,365: 269,023 in the Army, 160,997 in the Navy, and 28,345 in the Marine Corps. In October of that year, with war looming on the horizon, the draft began. The first draftees entered the military on November 18. With this, the military grew to a total strength of 1,801,101 in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor.

American soldiers march in Paris during the Victory Parade, Aug. 29, 1944 (U.S. Army)

In 1945, the U.S. military ballooned to over 12.2 million active duty personnel. After the war ended, the military downsized drastically. Conscription continued and ramped up during the Korean War. In 1954, after the armistice, the U.S. military totaled 3.3 million active duty personnel. This shrunk to a low of 2.47 million in 1960 before the Armed Forces ramped up recruiting and drafting going into the Vietnam War. During that conflict, the military peaked at over 3.5 million personnel in 1968.

The military wasn't this small when soldiers had to roll their sleeves and shine their boots (U.S. Army)

In 1973, the year the draft ended and America transitioned to an all-volunteer fighting force, the military numbered 2.25 million personnel. The military stayed steady in the low 2 millions until 1991 when the number dropped to 1.98 million. This trend continued through the 1990s to a low of 1.38 million in 2000. Still, the motivation of Americans to serve and effective recruiting kept the military's size above pre-WWII levels.

The Army missed its FY2023 goal by 10,000 (U.S. Army)

For FY2024, all services except Space Force missed their recruiting goals by a combined figure of 41,000 personnel. The military recruiting crisis and the shrinking of the nation's Armed Forces comes at a time of decreased stability around the world. In Europe, Ukraine and Russia continue to wage war while the Hamas-Israel War threatens to spread throughout the Middle East. In Asia, Chinese aggression towards its neighbors is being addressed by new and renewed defense alliances and commitments.


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