Over the last 15 years, the recruiting rate of the all-volunteer force has been declining, said Stephanie Miller, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy.  

Those with an interest in serving and qualification rates are hovering near all-time lows, she said yesterday at the Institute for Defense Analysis in Alexandria, Virginia.  

Previous tried-and-true methods to respond to market dynamics—such as an increased number of recruiters, bonus authority and increased marketing and advertising—have not necessarily resulted in the gains seen previously during challenging times, she said.  

Miller said defense leaders are asking how the military can connect with and motivate this new generation to serve. Is it through:  

  • Intangible benefits of service, such as the opportunities for leadership and travel?  
  • A sense of belonging and community pride?  
  • Selfless service to a greater cause?  
  • Pay and benefits that greatly exceed the market value of commensurate civilian work?  

Miller said many believe the most expeditious way to address the recruiting crisis is by making the tangible benefits of service worth more than any perceived hardship or risk.  

She said if funding for personnel is increased, decisions must be made about whether they will be across the pay scale, targeted to bonus money, or an increase in quality-of-life programs like housing and child care.  

An increase in personnel funding would eat into costs for training, education and future readiness, Miller noted.  

Current military marketing and advertising strongly aligns to what young people report they’re looking for: purpose, passion, connection. But marketing and advertising can only do so much, she said.  

Miller said she thinks that influencers, such as educators and parents, need to become more attuned to the benefits of serving.  

Too many educators falsely see the military as an alternative to college or an option of last resort, she said.  

“We need to reframe that narrative such that Americans understand that military service is a pathway to greater education and opportunity for those who may be less inclined to pursue college, initially, after graduation from high school,” Miller said.  

Miller said she’s optimistic about the future of the all-volunteer force. Measures and metrics of recruiting are improving, such as new contracts being written by recruiters and improvements in marketing and advertising incentives. But “climbing out of that deep hole is going to take a long time.”  

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