Radical Changes Required In Recruiting

Thursday, March 13, 2014

As the rift between the Army and American society widens, our recruiters in the field are reporting increased challenges. This should not be surprising considering that a 2013 Gallup survey found that 76 percent of those polled put a great deal of trust in the military—the highest among 16 institutions rated. Yet youth interest in military service is decreasing, and fewer than one in four young people meet enlistment qualifications. Military service is respected but not desired.

Our Army is left to either compete with other services, academic institutions and a slowly improving economy for a dwindling talent pool, or make a dramatic, paradigm-changing shift to expand our scope: Not only recruit the fully qualified but also assist those with the will to meet our high qualification standards to increase their chances of passing the tests. The latter is the better solution for our Army and our nation in the short and long terms. Such an approach, though, requires the military to innovate in a way it is not accustomed to doing. It also requires lawmakers and civilian leaders to publicly review, debate and amend long-held policy positions.

Innovation Through Technology

Today, six in 10 young people have never spoken to a recruiter. Ten years ago, that number was only four in 10. This increase cannot continue. Arming recruiters with current and more mobile technology, and empowering them to engage Americans across society in the information age, is critical to closing the rift. The mobile-cloud capability available now will break the perception of a recruiting force bound to their brick-and-mortar stations and get them out among the youth of America who are also increasingly mobile in their technology. We call on the same Army culture that provides full support to soldiers deployed in harm’s way to also equip recruiters with the best technology and equipment to succeed in their environment: American society.

We live in an age in which young people continually use social media and mobile technology to control their environments, so our ability to operate and engage in both their physical and virtual domains is essential to mission success. Recruiters—most of whom have battlefield experience—are already closing the technology gap. From using Google Hangouts for cross talk and on-the-fly coordination to skillfully capitalizing on quick-response codes, digital fingerprints, online prescreening forms and database management, recruiters are employing current tools to improve their effectiveness.

On the social media side, recruiters have moved well beyond Facebook to include reaching the mothers of America through Pinterest and connecting with young people through picture blogs via Instagram. The point is not which social media site to use; it is that recruiters are engaging and influencing the general populace. The result: increased contact, trust and transparency. This is exactly what we expect from empowered Army leaders who are bridging the societal rift.

The Army’s recruiting force, however, is somewhat hindered by aging technology. Even as technology was evolving, all recruiters were issued cell phones with slide-out keyboards for texting as recently as 2013. Needless to say, young Americans were not impressed when recruiters tried to convince them to join our “high-tech force.” When a recruiter conducted an interview, it took more than 12 minutes to pull out a 6-pound laptop, boot up, log in, connect to the Internet and then log on to the Army’s Virtual Private Network. Recruiters cannot always connect to the Internet through their own devices and must sometimes ask to log in to the prospective recruit’s network. Not impressive. We can do much better. We must.

The good news is that secure mobile, smartphone and tablet technology is mature and integrated enough to make a decisive difference for Army recruiting. In November 2013, recruiters began receiving smartphones. Working with the Army G-6, we will empower recruiters to fully utilize these communication devices. These devices will be Web-enabled, and when we optimize GoArmy.com for mobile interfaces, both recruiters and applicants will be able to truly engage on the move.

U.S. Army Recruiting Command’s mobile-cloud requirements are well within the realm of possibility. Instead of a $1,200 laptop computer, we can equip recruiters with tablets that instantly connect to secure Army networks and are preloaded with Army-approved mobile applications. Initial studies indicate we can do this for less than half of the current hardware costs. By converting to cheaper, more secure and more effective mobile-cloud computing, we will enhance prospective recruits’ understanding of the Army earlier and more frequently, enabling our recruiters to have more effective engagements.

Innovation Through Policy

Technological innovation can help bridge the rift between society and the Army, but it can’t close on its own: We need public discourse in reference to policy. Either the Army adapts to society, or we change societal trends. We lack the ability to shape societal trends, so the reality is that we require a public policy review now. Each day, our recruiters bypass willing, capable young people who both want to serve and meet or exceed every qualification standard but one. Those standards are established by policies that have not kept pace with changing national demographics. Recruiting policy, when adapted or created, will enable us to find and recruit talent in the marginally disqualified group of America and move them to the “will qualify” category.

We propose two policy areas in which senior leaders, lawmakers and policy officials can most dramatically close the rift between America and its Army.

Extend opportunity for citizenship through military service. We can also create a path to citizenship that rewards national service and reinforces the concept of the citizen-soldier. Although controversial in some circles, this approach has proven its worth by bringing high-quality men and women into our ranks. We have only begun to tap this talent pool.


Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno welcomes 2012 Soldier of the Year Sgt. Saral K. Shrestha to his office in the Pentagon. A native of Nepal, Shrestha came to the United States to study and enlisted in the Army in 2009
(U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Last year, the Army recruited more than 1,000 men and women who are yet to become American citizens through a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest. These recruits excelled in every standard of quality. If we recruited to our potential, we could bring in as many as 10,000 of these highly motivated individuals who lack only citizenship. As our national security strategy pivots toward the Pacific, we can readily reshape our policy to bring men and women with needed language and cultural competencies on board now so that they are serving as leaders in our ranks by 2020.

Even more encouraging, a 2012 Pew Research Center study indicates that as many as 700,000 currently ineligible young people could apply to serve if the laws change. These young people are attending our high schools and colleges today. Many want to serve—and, apart from the citizenship issue, are qualified—but can’t. Why do we continue to disqualify them? Service as a path to citizenship has long been part of our national history.

Extend opportunity for service to those physically ineligible. The obesity rate among young people is epidemic and negatively affects recruiting. While still upholding the high standards we require of soldiers, we must find policy and mechanisms to address this national problem. Today, recruiters must turn away every young person who does not meet our physical standards. Developmental PT is not an option. We cannot even require recruits to attend PT with us before they go to basic training. Why continue such a restrictive policy when it is clearly not working and undermines our Army’s goals?

One approach is to create a new, special category of Army enlistment. It would be designed for otherwise high-quality men and women who are currently disqualified due to physical conditioning standards. By partnering with a local Army Reserve unit, both recruiters and Reserve soldiers could provide the structure, training and rigor to challenge these otherwise very talented Americans to meet the Army’s physical standards. Once met, we renegotiate their contract for either active duty or Reserve service. Such a change requires increased authorities and a new framework for enlistment. It also addresses societal realities, empowers Army leaders, and maintains our high standards. We must be bold and adaptive.

Other policy areas deserve similar development, such as education assistance to willing and motivated individuals who need help in one academic area or English-language training for fit, highly intelligent applicants. Public discourse will reveal even more avenues.

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Thousands of motivated young people want to join our ranks and would fully qualify if provided the opportunity. We are missing parts of our recruiting mission now and are at risk of missing by wider margins if we delay adaptation. By engaging today’s youth through innovative technology—on their terms, in their domain—and by realigning policies to recruit more highly motivated, high-quality applicants, we can begin to bridge the civilian-military rift.

Recruits from this broader talent pool will then receive excellent Army training and education, and be imbued with our professional ethos. In short order, these motivated young people will be our future warrior-professionals. This combined approach, engaging America innovatively through recruiters using mobile technology and shaping policy to help our citizens become soldiers and meet our Army’s high standards, is the best strategic way ahead for our Army and our country. We can indeed close the rift through vibrant and engaged discourse.