It’s no secret that 2023 was a tough year for military recruiting, but that situation is looking up, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder during a news conference yesterday.
Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said recruiting will remain challenging, but the services are adapting to the challenging environment and there’s reason to be optimistic.
Last fiscal year, only the Marine Corps and the Space Force made their recruiting goals.
Still, there are concerns. Only 23 percent of young people between 17 and 24 even qualify to join the military. Even fewer have expressed the “propensity” to enlist, officials said.
Also working against the recruiting environment is the fact that the military is smaller and in fewer places. Many young people do not know anyone who has enlisted and they do not see service members in their communities or even on a regular basis.
The services are responsible for staffing the force, and they have tried new ways and methods to attract recruits. The COVID-19 pandemic handcuffed military recruiters who were not able to have “the face-to-face kind of communication that is absolutely essential to recruiting efforts,” Ryder said.
That is changing, and military recruiters are making the contacts needed to enlist personnel. “You’re seeing the services look at many different types of ways to get out and engage with today’s youth, as far as highlighting the opportunities that military service and the benefits that it can provide,” Ryder said.
The Army has a program to help recruits qualify for enlistment, and the service works with potential enlistees to meet the enlistment standards. Army officials said 95 percent of those in the program have successfully completed it.
The Air Force has aviation camps where young people get to experience life in the service and the various aviation jobs available to them, Ryder said.
“So, the services continue to be very active and creative in looking at how we can communicate with the public that we serve,” the general said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has said that the services didn’t get into this recruiting situation overnight, and it will take time to correct. “But we are confident that we will continue to see those numbers increase, and it’s something that we’ll, obviously, continue to work very hard at,” Ryder said.
DOD and the services are also working to educate the public about the military. This can be done at airshows, parades, sporting events, base tours and more, Ryder said.
“There are many different ways for people to learn about the military,” he said. “But the analysis has shown that at, the end of the day, it’s a conversation with someone. Billboards and advertisements are important, but at the end of the day it’s the conversation about, tell me more about it. What does this mean? What does this look like?”
These conversations with someone who has personal experience with the military are important, Ryder said. It helps in “breaking down some of the stereotypes in terms of what military life actually is versus what the perception is based on—popular programming or TV.”
Ryder said potential recruits need to understand that one of the strengths of the U.S. military is the fact that [it] is an all-volunteer force. “Each of us takes … the oath to protect and defend the Constitution by choice,” he said. “No one’s making us do this, and it makes us more resilient. It makes us a more powerful military because we are defending the people from which we come.
“I would tell any prospective recruit the United States military provides an opportunity unlike any you will ever get to experience,” he continued. “It’s an amazing place to develop and … be a part of something bigger than yourself.”