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DOD Improves Recruiting, Retention Efforts

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The military services are working hard to improve their recruiting efforts in spite of a variety of challenges, the Defense Department's top personnel official said.

James N. Stewart, who is performing the duties of the under secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, testified on recruiting and retention during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee yesterday.


Men pick up military uniforms.
New Uniforms
Marine Corps recruits from the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego pick up their initial uniform issue, Aug. 11, 2017.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Angelica Annastas
VIRIN: 170811-M-WQ808-032C

"The services are on track to achieve their recruiting missions this year, but they continue to face an ever-changing recruiting environment with a robust economy, low unemployment and significant competition from the civilian sector," he said.

"Today, just 29% of America's youth are eligible to serve without a waiver for things like drug use or minor criminal infractions," Stewart said. "And, just 2% are eligible and have a propensity to serve."

DOD is employing innovative tools to attract those eligible recruits.

Sailors do pushups in a training bay.
Recruit Training
Navy recruits exercise at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill., Aug. 27, 2018.
Photo By: Navy Chief Petty Officer Brandie Wills
VIRIN: 180827-N-WB795-1147

To reach a more technologically-savvy generation, in addition to running ads on traditional media, he said the department is using social media to target young people and those who influence them the most — parents, teachers, coaches and others who play a key role in a person's decision to join the military.

The department is also using artificial intelligence to analyze information to craft a better plan to reach audiences when they will be most receptive to DOD messaging, Stewart said.

An airman inspects new recruits.
Recruit Inspection
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Danny Gregory, a military training instructor from the 37th Training Wing, instructs recruits at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville, Tenn., May 4, 2019.
Photo By: Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Anthony Agosti
VIRIN: 190504-Z-JT271-1028A

The department and each of the services have varied outreach and marketing approaches to reach the widest audience, he said, "particularly talented women and minorities, because we rely on diverse backgrounds and perspectives to address the complex challenges facing our nation today."


A drill sergeant stands in front of a formation.
Army Drills
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Collier, a drill sergeant with the 262nd Quartermaster Battalion, marches troops to the dining facility at Fort Jackson, S.C., March 15, 2018.
Photo By: Terrance Bell, Army
VIRIN: 180315-A-US054-487

"The military services are each exhibiting strong retention in the aggregate and they expect to meet or exceed retention goals this year," Stewart said.

"Achieving and maintaining these retention rates is only possible if you take care of the member and their family. We like to say we recruit the member, but retain the family," he added. "So we're making every effort to support our military families in ways that recognize and relieve the challenges that come with the military way of life."

Stewart also outlined a number of ways DOD is helping families, including in areas such as child care, moving arrangements, spouse employment help and scholarship programs.

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