Getting young people to choose a career in the military will require more people talking about what opportunities there are in the service, said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During a discussion yesterday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. said there’s great opportunity in military service. To get young people to consider it for themselves, they just need to hear more about it. 

“I think about the opportunities and the things that young people will have the opportunity to do if they were to join our military,” he said. “We’ve got to talk about that. And partly the reason I say that is because I believe young people only aspire to be what they see or know about. If you don’t know about the opportunities of serving in the military, you may never pursue that career field.” 

Brown said in his own life, he was encouraged by his parents to serve in the military and expected initially that he’d serve only a short amount of time. 

“My degree is in engineering,” he said. “I was going to be an Air Force engineer for four years and get out.” 

While in college, he said he got an opportunity to ride in a T-37 Tweet, an Air Force trainer aircraft. That experience, he said, changed his outlook on what his military service could be. 

“I became an F-16 pilot, and I still get to fly today. It’s those kinds of opportunities, I think, that you just don’t know until you have a chance to experience it,” he said. “And whether you stay for just a handful of years or you stay in for a handful of decades, there are great opportunities serving in our military.” 

Following the end of the Cold War, Brown said, the U.S. military contracted in size as military bases shut down, and there were fewer opportunities for young people to interact with service members. Educating young people about military service must be a nationwide effort now, he said. 

“One of the goals we have to do as a nation is to talk about our military and the opportunities,” he said. “And I try to do that when I go out and travel — because you don’t know what you don’t know.” 

Warfighting Skills Are a Focus 

The 2023 Reagan National Defense Survey indicated that some Americans think the U.S. military is too focused on social issues at the expense of a focus on warfighting. But Brown said that isn’t the case. 

“I would say honing our warfighting skills has primacy in everything we do,” he said. “That’s why we exist: to fight and win our nation’s wars. We want to be so good at what we do that our adversaries [say], ‘Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.’ We do that because we bring in our nation’s best from all backgrounds. And I’m extremely proud of our service members, every single one of them.” 

As he travels around the U.S. military and meets with service members, Brown said he can see where their focus is. 

“I’m just so amazed by the young people that come into our military. And when I go out and talk to them, they are focused on warfighting. They are focused on getting the mission done, and they’re just they’re amazing young people, and I’m just proud to be able to work with them.” 

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