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Taking Care of Service Members Is Key to Recruiting Next Generation

The Defense Department's focus on taking care of those in uniform is a critical component for motivating the next generation to serve, a senior Pentagon official said.

Shawn G. Skelly, performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said ensuring those in uniform know they are valued is among DOD's most effective tools in shaping the public's perception of military service and recruiting others to join.   

"The most powerful means of communication we have is the lived experience of those people who serve and their family members," she said during a panel discussion on military recruiting hosted by the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington yesterday.

Navy recruits march in formation.
In Formation
Sailors graduate from boot camp at U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill., Feb. 10, 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Stephane Belcher
VIRIN: 230210-N-PG340-2052

Skelly said lived experience is ultimately what shapes others' perception of life in uniform, adding that the message spreads far beyond service members and their immediate families.   

She added that shaping that lived experience ultimately comes down to "taking care of our people."  

Since taking office, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has prioritized efforts to strengthen support for DOD personnel and family members under his "Taking Care of Our Service Members and Families" campaign. 

Those efforts include key initiatives to improve the lives of service members and their families through access to quality and affordable child care and easing the burden of relocation for military families, among other things.   

Skelly said those initiatives, many of which are overseen by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, are about making sure the total force receives the full support of the department as they answer the call to serve.   

"What I see us doing is exercising the responsibility that we have to meet the expectations of those service members as to what their service requires the support to them to be: healthy living conditions and a complete and total benefits package that enables them to support their family and live healthily and live safely where we send them," Skelly said. 

Three Marine drill instructors direct two women through an obstacal course.
Boot Camp
Marine Corps drill instructors motivate a Boot Camp Challenge participant as she navigates through an obstacle course at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., Oct. 21, 2023.
Photo By: Marine Lance Cpl. Sarah Grawcock
VIRIN: 231021-M-JK941-1006R

The panel discussion comes on the heels of a challenging year for military recruiting.   

Last year, just two of the services — the Marine Corps and Space Force — met their recruiting goals. Defense officials attribute that to a variety of factors that have challenged recruiting in recent years.   

Skelly said that no matter how technology and warfare change, the strength of the force always comes down to people.  

She said the nation's ability to support those who serve is critical to meeting the most pressing challenges now and in the future.   

"That's the most powerful message that there is," she said. 

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