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DOD Official Discusses Challenges, Solutions to Recruiting All-Volunteer Force 

Over the last 15 years, the recruiting rate of the all-volunteer force has been declining, said Stephanie Miller, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy.  

Two people in officers uniforms walk between rows of a Navy honor guard.
Honor Guard
Navy Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander Fleet Forces Command, inspects the Honor Guard at Navy Recruit Training Command, Oct. 5, 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Stuart Posada
VIRIN: 231005-N-KL637-1253Y

Those with an interest in serving and qualification rates are hovering near all-time lows, she said yesterday at the Institute for Defense Analysis in Alexandria, Virginia.  

Previous tried-and-true methods to respond to market dynamics—such as an increased number of recruiters, bonus authority and increased marketing and advertising—have not necessarily resulted in the gains seen previously during challenging times, she said.  

Miller said defense leaders are asking how the military can connect with and motivate this new generation to serve. Is it through:  

  • Intangible benefits of service, such as the opportunities for leadership and travel?  
  • A sense of belonging and community pride?  
  • Selfless service to a greater cause?  
  • Pay and benefits that greatly exceed the market value of commensurate civilian work?  

Miller said many believe the most expeditious way to address the recruiting crisis is by making the tangible benefits of service worth more than any perceived hardship or risk.  

People stand with their hands over their hearts.
Joint Enlistment
Service members participate in a joint enlistment ceremony at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana, May 22, 2022. The new enlistees stand for the national anthem to start the ceremony.
Photo By: Army Spc. Kelsea Cook, National Guard
VIRIN: 220522-Z-OE180-0002

She said if funding for personnel is increased, decisions must be made about whether they will be across the pay scale, targeted to bonus money, or an increase in quality-of-life programs like housing and child care.  

An increase in personnel funding would eat into costs for training, education and future readiness, Miller noted.  

Current military marketing and advertising strongly aligns to what young people report they're looking for: purpose, passion, connection. But marketing and advertising can only do so much, she said.  

Miller said she thinks that influencers, such as educators and parents, need to become more attuned to the benefits of serving.  

A group of young people stand a group and listen to two people in uniform.
MacDill Visit
Air Force recruits tour a KC-135 Stratotanker at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., June 14, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Lauren Cobin
VIRIN: 230614-F-CC148-2006Y

Too many educators falsely see the military as an alternative to college or an option of last resort, she said.  

"We need to reframe that narrative such that Americans understand that military service is a pathway to greater education and opportunity for those who may be less inclined to pursue college, initially, after graduation from high school," Miller said.  

Miller said she's optimistic about the future of the all-volunteer force. Measures and metrics of recruiting are improving, such as new contracts being written by recruiters and improvements in marketing and advertising incentives. But "climbing out of that deep hole is going to take a long time."  

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