Schaefer: People Remain Priority in Army of 2030

Schaefer: People Remain Priority in Army of 2030

Squad training
Photo by: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jacob Sawyer

Fifty years after the birth of the all-volunteer force, the Army’s top concern is ensuring Americans understand their Army. 

Large swaths of the country … just aren’t familiar with the Army,” said Agnes Schaefer, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. “We are seeing a really big and growing cultural knowledge gap about the military, and so … we’re trying to fill that.” 

Speaking June 6 alongside her counterparts from the Navy and the Air Force during a discussion hosted by the Center for a New American Security, Schaefer’s remarks come as the military faces one of the toughest recruiting environments since the creation of the all-volunteer force in 1973.

The Army, the biggest of the services, missed its recruiting goal by 15,000 new soldiers last year. Leaders expect the service will fall short again this year as it grapples with the lingering effects of the pandemic shutdowns, competition from the private sector and a shrinking pool of interested and qualified young people.

To combat the lagging recruiting numbers, the Army has implemented several initiatives, including reviving its iconic “Be All You Can Be” slogan, offering incentives to soldiers who refer someone to join and standing up the Future Soldier Preparatory Course.

Schaefer praised early results from the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, which helps service-eligible individuals meet the Army’s academic and physical standards and qualify to serve. About 6,000 recruits have gone through the program, which helps balance young people’s desire to serve with their ability to do so, Schaefer said.

“It's only been in place for about 10 months, so I am extremely curious to see how they will do over the long term,” she said. 

Among those already serving, retention rates are at “historic highs,” and the Army will continue to prioritize quality of life programs to keep those numbers “shored up,” Schaefer said. 

The Army also is looking to better manage soldiers’ careers to provide flexibility while fulfilling the service’s needs, she said. “Permeability,” which Schaefer defined as the “ability to move across the components as your life changes,” is “a huge priority” for the Army, she said. 

“You may want to [leave] the active component and go to the Guard or the Reserve, you may want to be settled for a little bit as your kids are in school,” she said. “These are the kinds of things that this generation is looking for, and I think we need to listen to those cues.”

Leaders also are looking to cultivate more talent management opportunities, particularly for enlisted soldiers. 

As it works to build the Army of 2030 and beyond, the Army recognizes that prioritizing personnel is key to readiness, Schaefer said. “Our people are key to readiness,” she said. “It doesn't matter how many tanks we have if we don't have the people who are trained … to drive them or shoot them.”