Relationships Sustain Recruiting Through Shutdown
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2013 During the first week of the partial government shutdown, recruiters at the Jacksonville Recruiting Battalion in Florida enlisted 88 new soldiers onto active duty and six others into the Army Reserve. The Air Force shipped 856 new airmen off to basic military training. The Navy enlisted 242 future sailors into the delayed entry program.
As of yesterday, the Marine Corps had already contracted with 2,732 new members – almost 97 percent of its goal for the entire month.
Military recruiters report that despite a long list of potential detractors – force reductions, budget cuts, sequestration and now, a partial government shutdown – the close community ties they have built have enabled recruiting to continue relatively unaffected.
As the Defense Department began identifying what operations could be curtailed during the shutdown, its recruiting operations remained almost sacrosanct.
That’s because the effort to recruit the best and brightest into the military can’t take a proverbial “time out,” even in the face of government furloughs, several recruiters explained during interviews with American Forces Press Service.
Falling short of recruiting goals for just one month simply isn’t an option because it can spill over into an entire recruiting year, they said. That can leave vacancies within designated training cycles and ultimately, manpower and capability gaps within the ranks.
“Simply put, the success of today’s recruiting efforts will have a direct impact on the future force and fleet,” said Navy Cdr. Wendy Snyder, public affairs officer for Navy Recruiting Command.
Regardless of how the military is sized in the future, every service branch needs to continue attracting new, high-quality members to remain strong and capable, she said. “The individuals we recruit today are tomorrow’s leaders, so the mission of recruiting is paramount to our fleet readiness.”
Air Force Commander Master Chief William Cavanaugh , the senior non-commissioned officer for Air Force Recruiting Service, called new recruits vital to ensuring the U.S. military remains the world’s best.
“You can’t sustain greatness without innovation, and innovation is nurtured by bringing new members onto your team, members from diverse backgrounds with different thought processes and experiences,” he said.
That makes the recruiting mission important, even during a period of downsizing that typically follows the end of a conflict, said Army Col. Fred Johnson, recruiting operations director for Army Recruiting Command.
Regardless of how the military ultimately is sized, “we have to recruit and build the experience base with soldiers who will eventually lead our Army in the future,” he said. “Our ranks must remain filled with qualified men and women with leadership skills, values and competence to face future challenges.”
Similarly with the Marine Corps, which despite drawing down its end strength, needs to maintain a strong recruiting effort because 67 percent of the Corps consists of first-termers, reported Marine Capt. James Stanley, operations officer for Martine Corps Recruiting Command’s plans and research section.
Falling short of recruiting goals in terms of quantity or quality could have a negative impact on the Marines’ ability to fulfill combatant commanders’ requirements, he said. But after the Corps exceeded its fiscal 2013 recruiting mission, Stanley said he is optimistic that it “is well positioned” to do so again this year.
Despite broad recognition of the importance of recruiting, some recruiters admit that the current impasse in Washington has sent the public a mixed message.
“When you look at the government shutdown and the different things that are happening in Washington, D.C., the immediate effect on recruiting opportunities is obviously a concern,” said Army Lt. Col. Stephen Grabski, commander of the Jacksonville Recruiting Battalion that was among the Army’s most successful in 2013. “We get a lot of questions from parents and the high school students that are really our primary customers about the impact of all this.”
Budget constraints have added another wrinkle by forcing the services to cut many of their more visible outreach activities. “You are not going to see any large-scale photos of massive events happening anywhere in recruiting, but that is not the foundation of success,” said Grabski.
“Our success is really based on the relationships that we have with the community and the interaction and support that we have with the members of the community,” he said. “And because it is a relationship-based success, the shutdown and the national discussions are not having a tremendous effect.”
Recruiters across the board say they are weathering what could be a very challenging recruiting environment thanks to close relationships they have built not just with potential applicants, but also their parents, teachers, coaches and community leaders who influence their decisions to join the military.
It’s an effort that has continued throughout the shutdown – through social media and face-to-face interaction in local communities.
Air Force recruiters, for example, are frequently seen in their communities taking part in Habitat for Humanity projects and other volunteer programs, Cavanaugh reported.
“Our basic philosophical approach to recruiting is that if you meld into and become part of the community and show your involvement in that community, you will become an accepted member of that community and the folks in that community are going to see what you offer their children as a viable option,” he said.
Similarly, the Army regularly sends recruiters to help fill needs community leaders identify, whether it’s a conditioning coach for a local athletic team or a teacher’s assistant in a classroom.
“I have combat medics stepping in and assisting with biology labs,” Grabski said. “I have mechanics who have time in Baghdad fixing tanks, now sitting in a high school automotive classes.”
Snyder called regular interactions between Navy recruiters and community and civic leaders and educators vital to the strong relationships that support recruiting efforts. “The daily engagements and conversations our recruiters have with young adults and influencers are critical to our mission of finding high-quality young men and women to join our Navy,” she said.
She expressed concern that although the partial shutdown hasn’t yet hurt recruiting, a sustained one that limits recruiters’ long-term engagement opportunities could.
Regular interactions give recruiters an opportunity to demonstrate to potential applicants and their influencers alike what the military represents, and share insight into doors that military service can open up, the recruiters said.
“We are looking for a community’s best and brightest so we can put forth the best Air Force we can for our nation,” Cavenaugh said. “These relationships allow us to share the Air Force story on a personal level [and] sustain the public interest in serving.”
“The impact our recruiters have on perceptions about our Navy is significant, which impacts an individual’s decision to join,” agreed Snyder. “The conversation the recruiter has may be the very first interaction that individual has ever had with a Navy sailor, so our daily conversations across the country matter.”
Grabski said there is no better recruiting tool than proud servicemembers who exemplify the military’s best.
“If I can put them into a high school setting and get them to interact with high school students, their leadership shines through in amazing ways,” he said. “Students see what true leaders look like and they tend to gravitate toward that and follow it.
“And that is the foundation of recruiting success,” Grabski said. “It is a 17-year-old high-school student looking at somebody with chevrons on their uniform, saying, ‘You are showing me some great opportunities.’”