Recruiting difficulties are nothing new to the Army. With just a brief look at history, one can discern the lack of human capital reaching back to World War II, when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wondered why he was constantly coming up short of his infantry requirements in a country as large as the U.S.Even after World War II, it was the Army that depended upon the draft (for a two-year term) as young men opted for longer commitments with the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps in order to get their choice of service.Of course, the biggest shake-up in the past 50 years was the elimination of the draft in 1973 as the U.S. adopted the recommendations of the President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Force, also known as the Gates Commission. What is interesting is that the commission stated the Army would have the most difficult time in an all-volunteer era. But their “fix” for that problem was to raise pay levels for all services so the Army could meet its mission.Indeed, during the severe recruiting difficulties of 1978–79, it was the Army that came up 17,000 short of its recruiting mission for the active component, with then-Chief of Staff Gen. Edward C. “Shy” Meyer making his famous “hollow Army” comments as even tanks, along with other combat vehicles, had to be put in storage.Later analysis of data clearly showed that Air Force and Navy enlistees resembled college kids; the Marine Corps recruits fit the full-time labor market employees; and Army recruits looked like the unemployed. The great fears of many had come true as the Army was indeed the employer of last resort.History of TroubleIn times of war, the vast majority of the population did not compete for jobs in which the living conditions seemed to involve endless days and nights in the mud, freezing cold and rain. Constant combat, along with the conditions of service, also led to a significant percentage of non-battle casualties.In times of peace, some of the best minds publishing on the subject offered reasons for the Army still being in the last place for enlistment preferences. The expert consensus can be summarized in four major points:- Status, prestige.- Civilian-applicable skills.- Conditions of work—minimize deprivations.- Peacetime/wartime training congruence.Aside from the choices made by potential enlistees, job satisfaction data across the services also showed the Army in last place.After the 1978–79 disasters, Congress and DoD finally began to address the Army’s recruitment problems. Maj. Gen. Max-well R. Thurman, one of the Army’s brightest generals, was appointed to head U.S. Army Recruiting Command. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam was properly normed. There was an increase in advertising dollars. President Ronald Reagan began to honor veterans and even came to the Pentagon in 1981 to present the Medal of Honor to retired Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez for his heroism during the Vietnam War. The Army was given authorization for its college fund and a two-year tour for high-quality enlistees. It was the only service to have such an incentive. Internally, there were highly significant improvements in recruiting policies as well.The advertising positioning concept was changed from a feel-good approach following “Today’s Army Wants to Join You” and “Join the People Who’ve Joined the Army.” The new recruiting commander insisted on an approach that would appeal not only to those who might join, but also to those already serving. The ad agency suggested this was an impossible task; Thurman insisted that rather than offering a single option, the agency instead develop a range of possible positions. It did so, and he chose “Be All You Can Be.”Now, the early fears of the volunteer enlisted force have been thoroughly assuaged, as evidenced by the following data from fiscal year 2013:- Ninety-one percent of the youth population has high school diplomas; the Army has 94 percent.- The youth population has 51 percent Mental Categories I-IIIA (above average to average); the Army has 63 percent.- The youth population has 36 percent Mental Categories I and II (above average); the Army has 40 percent.- The youth population has 21 percent Mental Category IV (below average); the Army has less than 1 percent.- The in-discipline rate in the Army has continuously decreased in proportion to high-quality enlistees.Most Difficult Recruiting MissionFirst, we must examine how the Army compares to the other services as equipment complexity and boots-on-the-ground missions have become greatly complicated. When we look at the data, the story isn’t so good. In 2013, the Air Force had 96 percent high-quality enlistees (high school diploma graduates and Mental Categories I-IIIA). The Navy had 82 percent, the Marine Corps had 72 percent, and the Army had 61 percent. The Army continues to significantly lag behind the other services and if we are not careful, the Army will be the first service to take a major downgrade in quality as it is the last choice and has the largest mission.Second is the problem pointed out by Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, Rick Ayer and Col. Mike Runey in the April 2014 ARMY magazine (“Radical Changes Required in Recruiting”): the growing rift between the Army and American society. Certainly, the authors’ recommendations for citizenship opportunities through service ought to be implemented.Third, there has been no acknowledgment by DoD or Congress that the Army has the most difficult recruiting mission and needs something other than the standard pay and benefits offered to all services. The elephant in the room of military recruitment and compensation is the wide variance in risk, living conditions, and civilian-applicable skills of the various in-service specialties.Fourth, the Army needs to develop an option that has high appeal to college-bound youth. The general GI Bill is fairly high in incentive but highly unrealistic in time commitment. According to the Department of Labor’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the main influencers on major life decisions are parents, not peers.Almost 70 percent of the youth population headed for college after high school in 2014. Yet today, there is not the option that was available to Recruiting Command in the early 1980s that would allow a college-bound young person to obtain college money with a two-year tour. Past focus groups conducted by Recruiting Command with parents have generated strong objections to a son or daughter delaying more than two years between high school and college.The hip-shot objection to a two-year tour is, “We can’t afford it.” However, look at the total cost of recruitment, including not only the pay and allowances of the service member but also the cost of family support and the probability of attrition. A two-year tour for a smart high school graduate, the vast majority of whom are not married, can come out cheaper for the Army than a longer-tour enlistee.Offerings to ConsiderConsider the offering of a college incentive and a two-year tour to a high school graduate for one of the combat arms MOSs, and perhaps for an MOS with deployment requirements with fairly short Advanced Individual Training.Further, consider looking at providing basic training for an enlistee during the summer between the junior and senior years of high school. The basic training might even be provided by Army Reserve units with perhaps even parts of or almost all of the advanced training during subsequent weekends, finishing two weeks after graduation. Then, have the term of service start two weeks after high school graduation and end in mid-August of the following year so youths can enroll in college only a year and three months after high school graduation. It is important that the Army be the only service with such options.When the two-year tour with college option was implemented in the early 1980s, the Army’s quality of enlistees greatly recovered and even outdid the Navy’s. It also allowed the takers to go through ROTC and return as officers.Analysis also found that the other services did not suffer any decrement in quality. The college incentive with a two-year tour opened up a new market for high-quality recruits. And in a major behavior reversal, many of the guidance counselors who had rued the presence of Army recruiters on campus began to welcome them. The option bridged the holdover Vietnam rift between the Army and the high schools as never before.The penetration of the very large segment of college-bound youth would not only enhance the combat viability of the Army but would also yield future military, educational, industrial and political leaders with at least some experience in the defense of their country.