Services Grapple with Recruiting Challenges
By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 22, 1999 The economy pulled a fast one on military recruiting, leaving the services struggling to recover and retain a strong force.
For years, the military had no trouble finding recruits. When recruiting was good, the services cut recruiting resources -- especially advertising, said Air Force Col. James R. Holaday, deputy director for accession policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy. The services also reassigned recruiters to other areas where they were needed more.
Now, however, an entire generation of potential recruits knows only a good economy, and the military is suffering, Holaday said. Three of four military services have fallen short of their recruiting goals in the past seven months. Things will likely get tougher, he said, because February through May is traditionally the services' toughest recruiting period.
The Army missed its fiscal 1998 recruiting goal by about 800 and the Navy missed by 7,000. So far this fiscal year, the Army is off the mark by about 3,600 recruits. The Air Force is behind by 1,046 recruits, which has that service's recruiting officials forecasting they may miss the annual goal for the first time in 19 years -- 33,800 recruits in fiscal 1999.
The Navy is ahead so far this year by 312 recruits -- and it added its 1998 deficit of 7,000 to its 1999 goal. The Marine Corps, the smallest service, has missed a goal only once in the past five years -- and then only by a tiny amount, Marine recruiting officials pointed out.
Whether behind or not, Holaday said, each service is focusing its energies where it believes they're needed most -- in advertising, at the recruiter level and through greater incentives to potential recruits.
"Historically, all these efforts have worked, and they should again," he added. "We're going to have to continue to work harder and make sure we keep the resources we need in place. We've 'saturated the market' with enlistment bonuses, advertising and recruiters, and now we have to give them time to work." The services received $268 million in advertising funds this year. They operate 2,600 recruiting offices and employ about 20,000 recruiters.
To get things rolling at recruiting offices, the services are adding young enlisted members to their recruiting force. This summer, for instance, the Army will add about 200 specialists and corporals to the recruiter ranks. Army officials say they hope target-age youth will relate better to the younger recruiters than they have to the more typical ones, who tend to be in their mid-30s.
Each service offers educational incentives and signing bonuses for certain career fields. The Army and Navy are also offering a special $3,000 bonus to anyone who enlists now and can ship to basic training before the end of May. The Navy has a $4,000 bonus for recruits who enlist in one of nine job specialties and go to basic before the end of May.
It'll be at least May before the services get much feedback on whether their efforts are working, Holaday noted. High schools graduate their senior classes in May and June, and those normally are the busiest and best recruiting months, he explained.
Summers, however, come at the end of fiscal years -- the services' last chance to recover from slow winters and springs. Ironically, they might find enough recruits and yet still miss their goals. The Army has several training posts to handle a "year-end" summer rush of enlistees, but the Navy and Air Force are limited to the training capacity of only one base each.
Despite the services' recruiting problems, one thing they're all doing is maintaining recruit quality. "Our standards are very high, and I don't see any signs of us lowering them," Holaday said. "DoD is holding standards high now and letting the services do the best they can to meet them."
Two DoD quality benchmarks are that 90 percent of every service's recruits be high school diploma graduates and that 60 percent score in the top half of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Army and Navy diploma policies mirror the DoD 90 percent goal, while the Air Force maintains a 99 percent rate and the Marine Corps, 95 percent.
"We shoot for these targets because we know that if we hit them, we'll have an efficient and effective military force," Holaday added. "I don't see anybody backing off those high standards."
Since October, DoD has opened the ranks to more home-schooled graduates and GED holders who have graduated from the National Guard Youth Challenge Program. During a five-year DoD pilot program, these recruits with alternative diplomas are afforded the same opportunities as those with traditional diplomas. They are also included in the 90 percent previously reserved for traditional high school diploma graduates.
DoD officials believe home-schooled students are a new market of recruitable individuals, Holaday explained. "We have not had enough home-schooled recruits to analyze how they perform," he added, "but we have people in our service academies who were home-schooled, and they are doing very well." DoD hopes to attract enough alternative diploma holders so it can analyze reliably how well they perform, Holaday said.
The DoD program allows the services to recruit up to 2,500 alternative diploma recruits each year in order to form a large enough group to study how they perform. The group will be compared to traditional diploma holders in areas of attrition, discipline and adaptability to military life.
Recently, some of the service secretaries have raised the issue of affording more GED holders the same enlistment opportunities as traditional high school diploma graduates.
"The Army should simply not turn its back on the nation's GED holders," said Army Secretary Louis Caldera. "I suggest we take a closer look at the thousands of additional GED holders who are available to recruit and identify those who have demonstrated the ability to be successful in the military," he added.
Caldera remarked that many GED holders are young minorities who have heard the message that a high school education is the first step in being successful. "They are hungry for the opportunity that military training and discipline represents," he said. "As the world's best trainer, the Army can afford to take them."