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Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks Participates in a Virtual Fireside Chat at a Center for a New American Security Event on Opportunities and Challenges for the All-Volunteer Force

KATHERINE KUZMINSKI: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us.

My name is Kate Kuzminski, and I'm the deputy director of studies here at CNAS and the director of our Military Veterans and Society Program. We focus on military personnel policy, veteran and military family policy and civil military relations.

Over the past year, my team has led a task force with a range of military personnel experts from across the research and policy communities examining the all-volunteer force as it approached 50 years in service. On July 1st, 2023, we marked that 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, 50 years since the last time we conscripted members of our military. We've examined both the value of the AVF, namely, the professional fighting force generated by the all-volunteer force, and also wrestled with the ways that the AVF may need to modernize after five decades of implementation.

We are honored to be hosting Deputy Secretary of Defense the Honorable Dr. Kathleen Hicks here with us today at CNAS to talk about the state of the all-volunteer force at 50. Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks serves as the 35th Deputy Secretary of Defense, where she is in charge of the Defense Department's day-to-day management and executing the priorities of the Secretary of Defense.

She has a storied history at the Department of Defense, where she previously served as the Under Secretary of Defense for strategy, plans and forces and leading the development of both the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

Deputy Secretary Hicks has also been a great policy research colleague to the think tank community, serving in many roles at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the International Studies Program. Most notably, in my opinion, Deputy Secretary Hicks also served a vital role as a mentor for many individuals in the room and on our online audience.

So we welcome you today, Deputy Secretary Hicks.



All right, good morning. Thank you to Kate for that very kind introduction, and thanks for the invitation to be here today.

So it's my privilege to be joining all of you to commemorate two important occasions for our military and for the nation, the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, and of course, Veterans Day. I know that CNAS has been discussing the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force all throughout the year, and I'd like to really elaborate this morning on a few of the themes that have been prevalent in that ongoing conversation.

As many have observed, our success in the all-volunteer force was not a foregone conclusion at the start. From the outset, the Gates Commission questioned whether we could keep this going, whether without a draft, we could guarantee a broad cross-section of American society would serve in the military.

Moving from conscripts to relying exclusively on volunteers to raise their hand and make a commitment to military service was a new ballgame, especially in the wake of a country bitterly divided by the Vietnam War. It involved professionalizing the force, incentivizing volunteers with the promise of good pay, benefits and family support, and ensuring that our value proposition remained a worthwhile one over the years.

That our all-volunteer force has lasted for 50 years and that we have built the finest force in the world is a testament to its strength, and I believe that it remains the best model for the U.S. military. Yet even now, we cannot take it for granted and we must address and attend to its challenges. Those challenges are familiar to this audience, and this morning, I'd like to briefly touch on two that are deeply-intertwined: ensuring healthy civil military relations and recruiting and retaining the force that we need.

We must ensure that as a society, we are familiar with the military, with military families and what they do and the sacrifices that they make for the nation. For years, Americans' trust and confidence in our institutions -- Congress, the courts, our justice system, public schools, the press, businesses small and large, and so on has been on decline.

The military remains one of our nation's most trusted institutions and we'd like to keep it that way, but we want trust to remain high overall, not just higher than for other institutions. We want to enjoy that high level of trust and confidence across the board, alongside all of these institutions, intended to ensure fairness, equality, and personal liberties.

For our part, remaining an apolitical institution is critical to maintaining that trust and confidence, and especially in this moment in history. A critical piece of ensuring healthy civil-military relations is making sure that the military avoids politicization and remains nonpartisan. It's so critical that service members are routinely trained and educated on this very issue.

Civilians have an important part to play in reinforcing this norm and protecting our service members from being dragged into the political fray or being colored or affected by policy disagreements that they, by design, have no control over.

One of the strongest signals of healthy civil-military relations we can send right now is Congress passing a fiscal year 2024 defense appropriations, and soon. While we appreciate the Continuing Resolution that keeps the government open, the clock is ticking again, with 10 days now until the Continuing Resolution expires. The now-routine failure to secure needed resources for defense and for the whole government erodes military trust in civilian leaders.

If you add up the months DoD has been under a CR since 2011, it totals four years worth of delays -- delayed new programmings, delayed training, and delayed permanent change of station moves. We cannot afford any further delays. I can assure you that Russia and the PRC are not going to slow down while we get our house in order.

Another strong signal of healthy civil-military relations would be to end Senator Tuberville's hold on general and flag officers. This hold is unnecessary, unprecedented, and unsafe. It's bad for the military, it's bad for military families, and it's bad for America, and it needs to stop now.

Confirmation of these leaders is critical to our national security. I applaud Senator Reed's efforts and hope we can see movement soon, and I'm glad that Lieutenant General Mahoney, Admiral Franchetti, and General Allvin have all been confirmed.

This is a good step, but it is not enough. We need all these nominations to move forward now, and I hope that the Senate will recognize that and move swiftly to confirm the nearly 360 remaining men and women into their positions.

All of this of course affects recruiting, and since the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a hot job market with the lowest unemployment rate in more than 50 years, military recruitment has been a challenge, and we've been hard at work recovering.

Each military branch has been working tirelessly to get after this issue, with programs and policy changes that will increase the pool of eligible candidates, from raising the maximum ages of enlistment and launching new programs that help potential recruits meet eligibility requirements; to offering a variety of incentives, such as bonuses, to recruits and recruiters, and releasing targeted ad campaigns that amplify the benefits of military service. And we continue to look for creative solutions.

We also rely on society's familiarity with the military as a recruitment tool and to bridge the divide between civilians and service members and their families, and that too has become increasingly challenging. Here's where healthy civil-military relations is especially vital to maintaining our all-volunteer force.

As the veteran population has gone from 18 percent of American adults in 1980 to less than seven percent in 2022, it has reduced most Americans' familiarity with the military. This means fewer Americans have direct ties to a family member, a friend, or neighbor who served, and without those direct ties, it is harder to observe the military way of life up close.

We can improve societal connections by increasing the visibility of the military through community outreach, by sharing their stories of service so that youth especially can better understand who our service members are, what they do, and what they're most proud of.

We also need as a nation to amplify the value and importance of service. This change in military recruitment patterns didn't happen overnight. It's generational, and it is our responsibility to tell younger generations the benefits of military service, of the educational benefits and the cutting edge training that they can receive, and the skills they can learn and develop, of the financial benefits and the family support, and of the opportunities to lead and work toward a common purpose.

Of course, we bear significant responsibility in DOD leadership and on Capitol Hill for making sure military service is rewarded and rewarding. That's why Secretary Austin made taking care of our people a department priority, because not only does taking care of our people help with recruiting and retention, it's the right thing to do.

And here is where I want to leave you with optimism about the future of our force, because while recruitment remains challenging, we have been surpassing our retention goals, and we take that as a strong indicator that we're meeting our value proposition, and that matters.

As a department, we've been working to expand support for our service members and their families, invest in top tier talent, promote our people, and create new opportunities for advancement. All of this is critical for recruitment and retainment and has a direct impact on the resilience and readiness of the total force.

In all, 40 percent of our current fiscal year 2024 budget request goes toward taking care of our people. We know that when we take care of the basic needs of our service members and their families and improve their quality of life, they can focus on their mission to defend the nation.

This includes competitive compensation, and this year, we're proposing a 5.2 percent pay raise for our workforce. That's the highest in more than 20 years. Together with last year's raise, our service members will see a 10 percent increase in base pay in just two years.

Three significant areas of family support we've been improving on are childcare, spousal employment, and food security.

Access to affordable childcare options is probably the number one thing I hear about when I visit installations, and it will continue to be a focus for us in our fiscal year 2025 budget request.

DOD operates the nation's largest employer-sponsored childcare program. We provide care to more than 160,000 children, 12 years of age and under, but in some geographic locations, service members experience long wait lists, largely the result, we believe, of understaffing.

Our fiscal year 2024 budget request makes an historic investment to implement universal full-day pre-kindergarten education in DOD schools, which the New York Times recently recognized as one of the nation's top-performing public school systems.

We've also increased our childcare capacity by increasing pay and incentives for early childcare providers and educators, and we are increasing fee assistance to make sure service members know how they can access benefits related to childcare in their state or district.

Another major family support focus for us is spouse employment. Today, many households in the country rely on multiple sources of income to support their families. Military families are no different. Military spouses should be able to continue their professions with as little disruption as possible as they move from post to post.

Last year's Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act created a federal requirement to recognize valid occupational licenses for military spouses in every state, regardless of the state of origin. Nevertheless, implementation of the requirement is difficult without state compacts. That's why we've been encouraging states to join licensure reciprocity compacts to make it easier for military spouses to continue their line of work.

And finally, food security: We've expanded eligibility for the Basic Needs Allowance to close the gap between household incomes and the level of eligibility for nutrition assistance. Our goal is to ensure every military family, whatever their household size or location, has a gross household income above 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

We have also met or exceeded our goal of fully-funding commissaries, reducing overall costs by 25 percent compared to other stores in the community, and we've undertaken other policies to expand food access.

While we are not a perfect institution, we are sending a strong signal that we're listening and we're moving to make progress wherever we can for those who currently serve, and to be more attractive to those who show a propensity to serve.

Yet, with a government shutdown looming once again and the hold on promotions, we are robbing service members and their families of one thing they deserve most, and that is certainty. Right now, far too much uncertainty exists, and we are asking them to put up with far too much. To ensure we have a ready and thriving fighting force, we must maintain our end of the value proposition in military service. That means delivering on world-class work environments and a suite of benefits which includes quality pay.

I think we all agree that it is our national interest to ensure that younger generations consider military service as a career option. It's also in their interest, but we must communicate that loudly and clearly. The contribution service members make to our national and global security are vast, and when I interact with them, they tell me a number of different reasons why they volunteered to serve and why they continue.

An Army major who worked in my office said he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. He lived near a military base growing up, and the pride of his uniformed neighbors and mentors persuaded him to visit an Army recruiter.

An Air Force sergeant who recently reenlisted said that he committed to serve because he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, and he knew that the Air Force would offer his family strong support. He also knew he'd have the opportunity to travel the world with his wife and sons, and in his career he's already achieved all three and signed up for more years of adventure.

Cadets and midshipmen that I've spoken with have said they've wanted lives of public service to help solve specific problems their generation is bound to face in the future.

Every generation has its heroes. Our job is to light the pathway. That includes communicating how military service creates long-term opportunities in virtually every career field and how the responsibility, leadership and skills developed while in service to our nation reap lifelong benefits for individuals, their families and their communities. Each of us today should be doing our part to communicate the positive, life-changing aspects of military service.

As I close, I want to take a moment to honor America's veterans, past and present, in recognition of Veterans Day. Through their service and sacrifice they've defended the nation, safeguarded our democracy and kept our country safe and secure from threats far and wide, and it is because of them that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today and that we have the opportunity to pass those along to future generations.

Thank you again to Kate, to CNAS, for your work spotlighting the needs of our all-volunteer force and our veterans, and for that invitation to speak today.

And now, let me turn it back for the fireside chat.



MS. KUZMINSKI: -- her remarks. A little level-setting for the audience both online and here in the room. We'll provide a few minutes for Q&A here at the end, so start preparing your questions. For those of you online, you can enter your questions below at\events or on Twitter using the hashtag #CNAS2023.

So a question I'll pose to you: One of the major concerns that the Gates Commission had at the inception of the all-volunteer force was how the move away from conscription might actually drive a wedge between society and the -- those who serve in uniform. So what role do you see the military playing in this broader civ-mil relationship?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Absolutely. Well, you know, as I said in my remarks, civilians have a lot of work to do on the civ-mil relationship. It's not all on the military. But part of that is, I think, in an era of an all-volunteer force which we value more than anything because of the outcome that provides, which is really the best defense we can hope for, so we're getting good outcomes. But now, what do we have to make sure we manage through? Because we are not, you know, equally conscripting? So lots of upsides in terms of the outcome.

For us, as the United States, we're going to have a relatively-small percent of our population in the military. That would be true whether we were relying on conscripts or relying entirely on volunteers. So now, it's a matter of, how do we make sure those volunteers really are both representative of the nation so that they can represent the nation's interests all the way across, and can be seen to do so, and that they're connected to communities? And this is the part, again, that I think is really difficult when you have a small population relative to the overall population, and it really does require a significant amount of outreach. It requires events like this, but all over the country, and it's part of an overall challenge, as I said, that we face with public institutions and volunteerism.

I think the really good news here is that we see strong evidence that Gen Z has a deep desire, like many generations before, a deep desire to have service, to make sure they're contributing to something bigger than themselves. We just have to make sure the military is a place both that really delivers on that and that they see us delivering on that, and that's the job that's left to us.

MS. KUZMINSKI: That's right. So many of those in the room are military personnel experts, and a lot of times when we talk about defense issues, right, people's mind goes directly to the newest battleship or the fighter plane, and those are important, but many of us would argue that it's the people that really matter.

So how do you think about service members' role in the readiness and lethality of the nation in the same ways that we think about these technological advances?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Absolutely, it's the people. And anyone who's worked closely around the military, we know that, right? We know that, we say that. We often have said throughout the ages, you know, it's people first, but we weren't really living it, in terms of how the department was focusing its senior leader attention.

So as I mentioned, Secretary Austin has taking care of our people as one of his big three priorities. We established right away the Deputy's Workforce Council. And just to this point that you're making on -- I'll say on the equipment side, we have many processes, lots of attention, lots of focus, lots of rigor, all the way up through the DOD system on how we acquire hardware, in particular.

We had no such thing, which is pretty mind-boggling -- and I've, you know, been 30 years in defense. We had no such thing for people issues. So we've corrected that. And as I said, 40 percent of our budget is going to how we make sure we recruit and retain this force, have its benefits, et cetera. And by the way, the rest of the budget also goes toward making sure those folks have what they need out in the field.

So we've put a lot of focus and attention there on making sure we have, you know, everything from pay to good promotion policies. I know several of the things we'll probably talk about here, so I won't preview too many of them. That's all been really important to us.

So it's at the core. We have to live what we say, we have to live those values, and I think that's what we're trying to do right now.

MS. KUZMINSKI: So as anyone who reads the news sees, military recruitment has been challenging in the last few years, in part due to COVID and in part due to some broader societal trends. What do you see as being at the heart of these challenges? And as each of the services is experimenting a little differently with how they're approaching it, what efforts underway does the department have as a whole?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Absolutely. We -- just yesterday actually, the Secretary hosted a discussion with senior leadership on recruiting, and that's, you know, a coincidence, if you will, but also quite routine. It's an issue that we're very focused on across the department.

The military departments have a number of approaches underway, and our goal at the enterprise-wide level is making sure that we can really look across those, find the winners, make data-informed decisions, like what's working well and how do we see that, and then really find ways to scale it or remove barriers. I mean, get out of our own way is usually the problem in DOD. So a lot of what we try to focus on is how can we really enable that creativity?

So what's causing it? Well, I -- to your point about your audience, I bet everyone here has a pretty -- you know, a strong view about the factors that go into it.

I think I would basket them in the following ways:

First, we have these structural issues around the economy and COVID.

On the economy, as I said, we have the best job market and lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. That's always been an issue for recruitment in any generation, is if we have a really strong economy. It's just harder for anyone who's -- any employer who's trying to hire. They're going to have to put more investment into it, work harder to get the folks that they want when it's a tight job market. We're just like that.

The COVID piece was particularly impactful on military recruitment though because we have such a reliance on getting into schools as part of our recruitment strategy. And so with schools out and we didn't -- we weren't able to have that contact for recruiters.

Often for students, the only or first contact they ever have with the military, back to all the reasons we just discussed, is with that recruiter. And so it's the same with their families -- you know, their parents, their grandparents. So getting us back to that kind of connection has been a big focus area since COVID has allowed for it.

So those are sort of some of the structural issues, and then the trust in institutions that I talked about. Then you get into the issues we've had really in terms of looking at ourselves. And I would look at this as never let a crisis go wasted.

So there's a lot of opportunity to look at ourselves and our recruiting process, both the recruiters, how we have incentivized recruiters, how we treat the recruiters, look at that whole community, and that's where you see a lot of innovation starting to happen out of the services.

They look at -- for example, the Marine Corps, which has not had a recruiting challenge -- and they say "hmm, what's -- what's interesting about the way the Marine Corps recruits its recruiters, if you will, selects its recruiters and rewards them?" And so you see other services starting to take what works for them out of that model.

In addition to looking at the recruiting environment for the recruiters, we're of course looking harder at how we attract those folks who might not be propensed toward the military, and of course that's the job of recruiting. We don't normally look at the propensed, we look at the facts who are not propensed.

And so we look at a lot of things, from advertising, we're -- in our '24 budget, we've asked for a good increase in advertising dollars. We really would like to get that budget. And we look at how we advertise, where we advertise, to whom we advertise.

We do a lot of market analysis. I see Stephanie Miller in the audience. Her team does incredible work getting the -- getting good data on who we should be going after, what their interests are, what would attract them to the military, and how we kind of target those things, as well as the detractors.

And then the last thing I would just say is we're focused on making ourself a better workplace, right? I mean, so much of this is about making sure we're a place that, again, like any employer, that folks would want to come into, that they would speak well of if they were in, they have a good experience, it advances their life goals. And we've got to prove all of that out. Our retention numbers give us confidence that we can show that, and so that's another big area of focus for us.

MS. KUZMINSKI: Yeah, so one of the big initiatives underway to varying degrees across the services tied to retention is the ways that the services are experimenting to varying degrees with talent management, to moving away from an industrial-era model -- which I know every general officer hates that term -- but to a much more tailored, getting the right person in the right place at the right time.

As you look across the Joint Force, how is DOD thinking about the best way to use the human capital that we have recruited and in which they invest?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Okay, this is one of the hardest areas I have found. I mean, all problems in DOD seem intractable, I know, but this one is really tough. I think we have a lot of the authorities we need, I think we, you know, could find our way to more creative solutions, and I think we're seeing that.

Space Force is a really clear example where they've led a legislative proposal. They have an authority, they would still like to create full permeability across their components. We're very supportive, obviously, of that. Again, we hope that -- we get an NDAA soon with that provision in it.

But by and large we have a lot of authorities. We have a career intermission program over -- I've asked for the stats on that. There's no cap on the number of people who could use that. We've had, I believe, a total of 500 people in the United States military ever use the Career Intermission Programs. We've got a long way to go culturally.

To look at that, look at other kinds of career solutions. So, one of the things I did to start to get after this is really build the body of knowledge. And so, I commissioned a Defense Business Board study on talent management in the department. And they had some, you know, excellent advice but very, you know, hard to hear, I think, for the community. One of their recommendations was to bring in a chief talent management officer, which is a best practice in other organizations and institutions.

We've done that and he's getting going, starting with some pilots in some key areas and trying to, again, build a community of practice both around function -- what we call functional community managers. So, think of cyber, for example, or the digital workforce or financial managers. Those are our functional communities. Between those functional communities and the HR communities that support them. And then really getting leadership focus.

The last thing I will say is a problem we have across the department that really presents itself here, is not having quality data that we can share at the enterprise level. So, our ability to see ourselves is well behind where it should be.

And this area of talent management is a really excellent application. What is our time to hire? How fast can you tell me that? Where are we doing well? Where aren't we doing well? What does the retention look like? Do we have exit interviews? What are those exit interviews telling us? All of that data and information, that knowledge growth, I think, is really helpful not only so we make the right decisions but to bring the whole community along and change the culture because then we're just talking facts. So, that's the path we're on, but it's a tough one.

MS. KUZMINSKI: Yes, and I think you know, back when I was at RAND, we did quite a few studies looking at evolutionary versus revolutionary change when it comes to the management of uniform personnel and when we would analyze whether there were financial, policy, legislative barriers over and over the real barrier is at the cultural level, right, in driving that.

So, DOD and each of the services independently have been working really hard the last few years on reducing harmful behaviors in the force. And I'd like to focus on two specific lines of effort. The shift from suicide response to suicide prevention and the efforts underway to prevent and combat sexual harassment and assault.

First, can you speak to the efforts underway in the department and at suicide prevention and any outcomes that you've seen thus far?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Sure. I think on suicide prevention there's been a longstanding set of initiatives in the department, particularly coming out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise overall in society of suicide. And we have a heavy dose of the population most at risk, that being, you know, single males -- single white males in that young population, you know, 18 to early 20s.

So, we have a population particularly at risk, even as we reflect kind of trends in larger society. So, among the things we have done most recently is put together a taskforce and they have reported out to the Secretary of Defense now with a number of recommendations. The Secretary has gone through all those recommendations and endorsed a very wide swath and we published, that's all available publicly. And now we're going through to resource against that.

I'll just say -- I know we're going to talk about the sexual assault issue in a second, but these are very much related, right? That's another, you know, revelation, perhaps, is that public health approach to prevention overall, that all of these behaviors, self-harm, harm, they often have comingled or the same core issues. And so, the more we can work on prevention of one, it kind of has this secondary effect on others.

So, we have organized ourselves more around this prevention model. Of course, we have response and intervention capabilities and making sure those are well-resourced. But I think what we're doing to build the prevention workforce, which we'll talk about in a second on sexual assault, is also going to help us on suicide prevention. And, obviously, being a victim of sexual assault is, itself, a potential risk factor for suicide.

MS. KUZMINSKI: Yes, and the department really has taken a very directed approach on combating sexual assault and harassment in the department. Back in 2021, I think there will be dissertations written on how the Independent Review Commission on Preventing Sexual Harassment and Assault was run. It had a very tight timeline. It had very thorough research. It had a lot of site visits and interviews and was really impressive that the slate of recommendations that came out of that. And it seems that those recommendations are being actioned on. So, can you speak a bit to how the department maybe even how Congress and the administration have been using the recommendations from that report?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Sure, absolutely. So, I think they -- a fantastic commission, first of all. But they also, you know, were able to come at a time when there was just really strong support, both in the administration from the President to the Secretary on down. And in Congress for real change in this space.

And we were able to kind of leverage all of that with a lot -- with -- you know, hard pushes in some areas on Capitol Hill in addition to areas that we thought were really important. So, we've had a couple years now underway. We are trying this major effort on prevention. I'll come to other aspects in a second. And that is requiring us to hire an entire workforce-- 2,000 people-- to help us all the way across the force to make sure, in addition to other professionals that are part of the solution and that public health approach, that these prevention experts can really help set commanders up for success, help units have the tools that they need and, of course, help individuals as they're working through those basic risk factors of life, excuse me, which are, you know, economic insecurity, relationship challenges, you know, command issues inside their performance, if you will, their work performance, et cetera.

All of those, as I said, become risk factors for all kinds of harm and self-harm behaviors. Then you get to -- and there are other things we're doing, I'm just cutting the chase a little bit. But another major area, of course, is accountability. And that's where, just next month in December, we'll have those Offices of Special Trial Council up and running in all the services. All the services are on target for that. They've selected those individuals, the staffs are underway, they will be direct reports to their service secretaries which, you know, we believe will help build back trust in the institution. We're going to learn as we go a bit, no doubt because that's inevitable and we'll want to make sure we're agile to adjust to that. We've already had a revision of the manual. I'm going to get the title wrong -- I'm sorry. The Manual of Trial -- Trial -- I -- you know what I mean.

MS. KUZMINSKI: The Manual for Courts Martial.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: The UCMJ. Yes, thank you. The UCMJ aspects, again, I suspect as we go through this process, we'll learn a little bit more and advance.

I think it's been really -- when I talk to survivors, families of survivors, it's -- you know, they have their fingers crossed. They love the military. They want the institution to succeed. They see the signals from Congress. They see the signals from leadership. Now, we've just got to deliver.

MS. KUZMINSKI: So one last question I'll pose, and then we'll have time for just a couple audience questions.

Looking out to 2030 and beyond, the services are planning for what they need across a range of requirements, and that includes their human capital needs. So how can DOD, the White House and Congress ensure that the nation will have what it needs for the future fight when we think about our human capital?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Well, it goes back to many of these things we've already talked about. We have to make sure folks see service of any kind -- I mean, you know, military service is just going to be a subset of that broader service mission set -- as something folks want to do.

You know, everyone has their own story to tell. My entry into service, I always knew. I had the family that was in service, my father formerly in the military, my mother did family support, you know, a licensed counselor, you know, and did a lot with military families. We were the kind of family -- a big family. We were the kind of family that had a -- you know, the day-old bread store, you know, trip once a week, once every other week. My mother reminds me not to exaggerate, but once every other week, you know, canned corn, et cetera, et cetera. So -- but we -- the military was very good to our family, and so I was benefited, when I was looking at career fields, to know that public service really had this incredibly deep impact. And so everyone, as I said, is going to have their own story for that.

We need to create those stories for the youth of today and make sure that they really feel, whether they're going in the Peace Corps, they're teaching, they're nurses, they're military -- it doesn't matter. We need all of all of that, and all of those professions are under extreme stress right now. We need to get it together as a society and push on that.

So I think there's a whole-of-society piece. That's part of why I'm here today. I really want that message out. I want folks in their communities talking about this, and I think we need to elevate the positive things there are for military service.

We've put out a -- what we call congressional toolkit on the all-volunteer force, a public affairs community toolkit on the all-volunteer force for anyone who wants to find ways to, whether it's bringing USO in, whether it's to get a military service member into schools to tell a little bit about their job. Doesn't have to be a recruiter. Would love it if it's a recruiter, but just to start to get that connection together. I think that's going to help a lot.

I think there's a lot to build on. Let me just end on this, Kate, which is, as I said, the youth that -- we look at the polling today -- they want to do something bigger than themselves. They just have to see that this is a way to do that.

MS. KUZMINSKI: That's right. We'll move to the audience for one question. Anyone want to go first? While you're thinking of your question, I'll ask one of our online audience a question.

Oh, Daniel?

Q: Good morning. Dan -- Daniel Ginsberg with RAND Corporation.

MS. KUZMINSKI: Got a mic.

Q: Thank you for your leadership. Daniel Ginsberg from the RAND Corporation. Thank you for your leadership of the department and our -- all of our services. I have a question about speaking to the youth. Do you feel that the services have a good handle on social media outreach? And you know, what steps do you -- is the department considering to enable connecting with younger people through that method?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: I think this would fall in the basket of, there are good things going on. Have we scaled them appropriately? So where we've seen the most success is with -- I feel so out of my lane here -- with influencers. So when there are genuine service members on their own who are on, say, YouTube, and you know, describing a day in their life, talking about, you know, whatever -- going out to get, you know, fast food, but they're in uniform -- whatever it is, those are wildly popular because I think, you know, a -- they're looking -- youth are looking for authenticity, right?

So we can do a lot on advertising. We need to. We're going to, and then that includes on social media, includes in gaming platforms, other places because constitutes social media is itself shifting. So that's important, but we can't lose sight of the fact that that authenticity really speaks, and that's where I think there's a lot of opportunity to grow.

MS. KUZMINSKI: I'll shift to a question that came through from our online audience. So the blended retirement system, we're still about three years out from seeing how that affects retention of those who came in under the new system.


MS. KUZMINSKI: But are there any -- how is the department thinking about the impact of this long-term retirement system benefit when it comes to recruiting and retention?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: So this is where data can help us make the best decisions, right? As I said, some of the things we want to make sure we're getting in that data is why did you join? Why do you stay? Why are you leaving? Kind of the basics. Much harder to get. Particularly the last piece of that has been slower to come online, and again, I think any institution of our size and impact should have allowed. But that's what we're after now. So I think we're going to see what the impacts of, for instance, blended retirement is.

Overall on compensation, we have the Quadrennial Review Of Military Compensation underway right now, and these are some of the things that we expect that independent body to be looking at as they think about what's the best way to package the total compensation for our service members?

MS. KUZMINSKI: So it's my job to keep the Deputy Secretary on time, so we have time for one last question, so we'll go over here.

Q: Good morning, ma'am. Lieutenant Colonel Jessica (inaudible) from CNAS. Air Force fellow. Quick question in regards to retention, and you talked about, like, why people leave and why people stay, especially in regards to low-density, high-demand career fields with high OPSTEMPOs such as aviators or people that are in positions of command. Has the DOD researched any family-planning initiatives similar to the corporate world such as egg freezing, to allow members the flexibly to keep serving without necessarily sacrificing your family goals?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HICKS: Yes, we have a number of benefits or access already. Let me be very general about it so I don't misstate them.

We certainly have some military treatment facilities where one can access those services, so in vitro is an example, but any kind of fertility treatment, and we know there's a lot of interest in that.

We do see that service members really, for themselves or for their loved ones, want to be able to access those capabilities. We have put out, of course, a travel policy that allows us to compensate service members who want to go to a facility, whether, you know, if they can't really get that access close by. And so that's another one of those benefits that we're trying to provide. That's something that our military, you know, excuse me, our medical groups are looking at, is -- kind of every day, is how -- you know, where is the corporate world? How are we competitive relative to what and other organizations or companies provide in terms of those benefits, and that is an active conversation as to, you know, where to get that right.

But that's where we are right now. We're trying to make sure we can provide it, understanding that the demand is very, very high, that it is a recruitment and retention issue, and then the travel policy, which we think is a strong signal that we want to help support folks no matter where they're posted in being able to access that kind of technology.

MS. KUZMINSKI: Well, Deputy Secretary Hicks, we are so grateful that you joined us here today to have this conversation. And to all of you who joined, whether online or here in the audience, thank you for your thoughtful questions.