Army numbers smallest since WWII — what units face cuts in 2024?

by Tommy Grant

The new year will likely prove to be one of significant force structure changes for the Army, according to its senior leaders.

Although the service has maintained for years that embracing multidomain operations will require it to “transform” its force structure into one leaders believe is suited to tomorrow’s battlefield, back-to-back recruiting shortfalls led top officials to admit by mid-to-late 2023 that some pending cuts are influenced by a deepening numbers shortfall. The Army finished fiscal year 2023 with only 452,000 active duty soldiers, its smallest force since 1940.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told Army Times in June that the service will see reductions to “close-combat forces” that were purpose-built for the War on Terror, in addition to other organizations based on their purpose or other factors like deployment rates.

Controversy erupted in October following a Wall Street Journal report suggesting that 3,000 Army special operations troops could be cut. According to other media reports, the special operations community and Army leadership disagreed about the potential reductions, ultimately requiring mediation from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Although details on the cuts are scarce, service and special operations officials briefed Congress on the matter in October. The briefing included “Army structure changes, to include [special operations forces],” according to a congressional staffer, who spoke on condition their name not be used in order to discuss the private briefing. A significant portion of the special operations cuts are expected to fall on hard-to-fill empty billets, a defense official told Army Times in October.

The cuts are intended to ensure the Army doesn’t become “hollow,” says Wormuth, deploying a term coined during the post-Vietnam era when some units existed on paper rather than in real life.

Military Times Deputy Editor Leo Shane III contributed to this report.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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