Today’s Army recruiters face challenges not seen since the all-volunteer force was implemented in 1973. Both Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George now spend considerable time on recruiting. Their work is not easy. The past two years were the worst for Army recruiting since the all-volunteer force was fielded 50 years ago. This year likely will be more of the same.
Historically, when recruiting has been an issue for the Army, two things are normally on the table: offering more financial incentives and relooking at existing entry criteria/standards.
Everyone serving or who has served in the Army recognizes the unique missions, core values, history, culture and traditions of the service, as well as the importance of those foundational pillars to esprit de corps and readiness. These unique distinctions must be sustained. However, perhaps there should be one standard to enlist in the U.S. military covering mental aptitude, physical testing, past medical history review, weight/body fat percentage, tattoos, background screening, drug testing, waivers, etc.
Once a person interested in joining the military meets DoD standardized entry criteria, which any recruiter could validate, the recruit would choose a military branch, and that service would complete remaining administrative processing, culminating with an enlistment, followed shortly by attendance at the service’s basic training.
Under this approach, the Army and the other services would still determine the locations, curriculum and graduation standards for recruits’ Initial Entry Training. This new way of doing business also would not change existing Army standards for acceptance into specialized schooling or the selection criteria for assignment to elite units such as the Rangers or Special Forces.
In the current U.S. economy, most consumer goods on average cost between 13% and 20% more than they did a few years ago. Therefore, any type of meaningful financial incentives could entice more people to join the Army or result in more soldiers and junior NCOs reenlisting. I have two recommendations in this area:
First, Army leaders must seek congressional approval for added funding to expand existing bonus programs to pay all new recruits who sign up for four years a $10,000 signing bonus regardless of their projected MOS. That figure could be reduced to $7,500 for enlistees who only join for three years. This signing bonus would be popular, and the Army should pursue this immediately.
Additionally, Army senior leaders should work with the other services, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, DoD and the White House to seek bipartisan congressional support for legislation that would waive federal income taxes for anyone serving on active duty in the military. This alone would likely eliminate the military’s recruiting crisis and allow the all-volunteer force to succeed for another 50 years.
Many people I have spoken with think the Army’s recruiting ads of the past few years have missed the mark in terms of conveying the warrior spirit, the seven Army Values and the importance of patriotism and service. On a more positive note, some of those same people and others have said they support the Army’s decision to resurrect and air a newer version of the “Be All You Can Be” advertising campaign initially introduced 42 years ago.
The consensus is that Army recruiting ads should be patriotic, action-oriented and inspirational, intended to motivate a young person and/or a parent or other key influencer to seek more information about the Army. The Army also should utilize more tailored regional recruiting ads instead of “one size fits all” national ad campaigns. Recruiting ads that resonate with people who live in an urban environment may not have the same positive effect on someone who lives in a rural area.
In addition, Army leaders should coordinate with DoD and lawmakers with military experience to produce ads in which members of Congress share their personal military vignettes and underscore the enduring value and benefits of military service. This effort will be more effective if the lawmakers are post-9/11 veterans.
Time for Change
Following are some other ideas I have to improve Army recruiting.
The Army is fond of saying that it puts its people first. So, the service should utilize the experiences of its people to aid recruiting.
Every retired Army general officer, colonel and command sergeant major should be given an opportunity to sign up for a new position I’ll refer to as a “retired Army ambassador.” These unpaid positions would help Army recruiting efforts at the tactical level by engaging with Army recruiters to understand their daily challenges, and help them look for new and innovative ways to breach local obstacles. This new program would not conflict with the existing Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army program.
Also, distinguished graduates of Army basic training/One-Station Unit Training could return on temporary duty status to the Army recruiting station closest to their home for 120 days to assist recruiters with outreach, engagement and recruiting efforts.
The Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Moore, Georgia, formerly known as Fort Benning, which is meant to boost interested recruits who don’t meet basic entry qualifications, could be expanded, and the Army should consider building a similar program on the West Coast.
The Army should establish a senior NCO task force led by the sergeant major of the Army and composed of command sergeants major of major commands to reassess the structure, missions and routine utilization of the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command and its processing stations. Are these organizations, founded in 1976, structured and utilized in ways that are helpful to the Army and the other services in today’s recruiting environment?
Collaboration opportunities the Army could pursue might start with reaching out to DoD and the Department of Homeland Security to explore whether there are enlistment opportunities for some of the millions of new immigrants coming into the U.S. each year. This effort could extend to people already living in the U.S. under the DREAM Act.
Another opportunity is to work closely with the nonpartisan Charleston, South Carolina-based Congressional Medal of Honor Society to share the inspirational stories of their approximately 66 living Medal of Honor recipient-members, of whom some 48 are former soldiers. Leverage the society’s existing Character Development Program to encourage young Americans to take more pride in their country, appreciate the inherent value of service to the country (including military service) and help that population envision how they can contribute more to the country.
The Army also could work with DoD and the U.S. Department of Education to reinvigorate and, if possible, expand the Troops to Teachers program. Former soldiers serving as teachers can be role models and influencers, and share with their students how Army service positively influenced their lives.
The Army also should produce a reality documentary TV series formatted to emulate the Hard Knocks: In Season show about the NFL that airs on HBO and Max. It could be called Army Strong, Becoming a Soldier: The Real Deal, Living the Dream or some other catchy name. Many young people who once considered joining the Army often don’t follow through due to misconceptions of what the recruiting process entails, what happens in basic training, what it’s like to attend a specialty school or what the daily routine is like for a soldier. This new series could dispel many of those misperceptions and interest more people in joining the Army.
Doing something the same way it has always been done is not an effective strategy in any endeavor to get past a major crisis. Today’s unprecedented recruiting crisis necessitates changes to existing Army recruiting regulations and policies, structure and routine practices.
There is no appetite or political support in the U.S. for returning to conscription. To get past the current recruiting crisis, the Army must put forth a national effort analogous to a basketball full-court press. Bold action is needed if we are to maintain the appropriate Army structure that the nation needs to remain a global superpower in these turbulent times and beyond.
The American people—including soldiers who have served, are serving or are contemplating service—count on Army and other professionals with expertise in recruiting to get outside their comfort zone, be open to trying new things and, ultimately, figure this out. They deserve our best effort. Failure is not an option.
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Col. Mike Galloucis, U.S. Army retired, served 30 years on active duty. He retired in 2010 as chief of staff of the Defense Media Activity, Alexandria, Virginia. He commanded a brigade in Iraq before and during the 2007 Surge. After retiring from the Army, he served 11 years as a senior executive at the Department of Veterans Affairs, including as acting assistant secretary of the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.