LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Michigan National Guard leaders say they are seeing recruitment improvements amid nationwide challenges.

One of those recruits is Amelie Lepley. She said joining the Michigan Army National guard was a challenge she was determined to tackle.

“I think I was nervous at first and maybe the standards were too high, maybe I won’t make the cut” said Lepley. The Michigan State University junior said testing herself in the classroom and in the recruitment process made her feel up for that challenge.

“Being able to get that experience and start working on myself, I think it really built me up for success in doing this.”

Amelie Lepley, a junior at MSU, said she joined the Michigan Army National Guard to follow a career in intelligence. (WLNS)

She is one of the 29,310 people nationwide who joined the service this year. Yet the Army National Guard missed its goal by 1,570 recruits and the Air National Guard fell short by more than 4,000. Its goal was 11,745 new members.

Defense officials said 2023 was “the toughest recruitment year.”

It follows last year’s gap of 6,000 new soldiers and around 3,000 airmen. Officials said it is hard to find qualified applicants amid a competitive job market.

2022 Recruitment: Michigan National Guard staffing steady amid US recruiting lows

Here at home, Michigan Army National Guard Colonel Ravi Wagh say it’s a different recruiting market than before. But the state is doing better.

“Compared to the national average, we’re doing well in terms of our components moving with and being consistent with, if not exceeding, some of the averages,” said Col. Wagh.

This year, the Michigan Army National Guard was fewer than 500 people short of its goal of 8,011 new soldiers, and the Air National Guard was off by just 53 people to reach its goal of 2,536 airmen.

Col. Wagh credits added state benefits like expanded tuition assistance with drawing people in. This year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed off on the Michigan National Guard State Tuition Assistance Program. It provides members and their family with education aid with a lifetime cap of $86,000.

It is among the many initiatives the service is looking into or is offering. Col. Wagh said there is work ahead to bring in people to new and much needed jobs, like culinary specialists and cyber and aircraft-related jobs.

With her sights set on serving in intelligence, Lepley is excited for the road ahead.

“There’s so much out there. There’s a big wide world out there and I am super excited to see a lot of it,” she said.