The services must tackle contemporary challenges head-on amid a growing military recruiting crisis. Their efforts will only succeed if they can better connect with American youth and help them meet basic eligibility standards.
Increasing Recruiter Training
Many national security pundits wave inflammatory headlines about the military recruiting crisis, but it isn’t easy to make concrete recommendations on addressing it. The military services’ current approach to recruitment is largely self-defeating, and bold changes could help.
Shuttered schools and draconian COVID-19 restrictions have made it impossible to meet with young people, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Youth obesity rates and declining confidence in military operations have also taken a toll, and the appeal of serving is fading among younger Americans.
Recruiters must reach new audiences and develop meaningful relationships, and the military’s reliance on outdated rules should be rethought. For example, a rule that disqualifies potential recruits who use certain medications like ADHD or marijuana doesn’t reflect today’s reality.
Expanding Recruiter Assistance Programs
Some military recruitment policies are holding back the services from reaching their recruiting goals. For example, rules that disqualify applicants if they are taking medications for ADHD or depression prevent many young Americans from enlisting. These medications are common among Gen-Z, and more young people will likely seek medical waivers in the future. Waivers are lengthy and complicated, so many prospective service members give up and find other jobs. The Department of Defense should centralize redundant recruiting organizations from the different branches into a single force that can tailor solutions to individual recruits. This would improve efficiency and promote collaboration over competition. It also could allow recruiters to reach more young Americans who may be interested in military service. Increasing military propensity is important, but it won’t happen quickly.
Incentives for Desirable Duty Station Assignments
A military recruiter’s job is challenging, especially when the “product” is not appealing. While eye-catching headlines pointing to the need for drastic changes make great clickbait, addressing the recruitment issue requires more than a new sales team; it requires improving the overall compensation package and the lived experience of active-duty service members.
For example, offering more desirable duty station assignments for entry-level recruits is important. Currently, recruits can choose their next base only if it has soldiers in their military occupational specialty, which may not be the case for smaller bases. In addition, the services need to rethink rules that exclude young people from military service due to past drug use. Considering how many young people live on their phones, the prospect of a seven-month seaboard deployment with no high-speed internet has little appeal to today’s junior enlisted.
Creating a More Diverse Force
The Air Force and other services need help to meet active-duty recruiting goals. Their problems stem from many intertwined factors that defy quick fixes, including declining military propensity and a lack of trust in officers.
To bolster their ranks, the services need to reach out more to young Americans in ways they have not done before. One example is an Army program that partners combat units with recruiters in cities nationwide, letting young people meet soldiers and see equipment to help them learn about the military.