Army at­tacks re­cruit­ing short­fall in eco­nomic boom

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

In a push to fill the ranks in the face of a boom­ing econ­omy, the U.S. Army will be send­ing hun­dreds of re­cruiters into nearly two dozen cities in the com­ing weeks in an at­tempt to bol­ster lack­lus­ter en­list­ment num­bers, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Mil­ley said.

Speak­ing at the As­so­ci­a­tion of the U.S. Army’s an­nual Wash­ing­ton con­fer­ence, Gen. Mil­ley ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenge of re­cruit­ment even as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­liv­ers on a prom­ise for higher fund­ing, in­sist­ing that the en­list­ment num­bers are se­ri­ous but fall short of a cri­sis for the ser­vice. The Army missed its an­nual re­cruit­ing goal this year for the first time in more than a decade.

“It is cer­tainly a warn­ing light … but it is not by any means a catas­tro­phe,” Gen. Mil­ley said. “There are a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties out there” in the pri­vate sec­tor for young men and women who might once have con­sid­ered a mil­i­tary ca­reer.

Iron­i­cally, Pres­i­dent Trump’s drive to im­prove the econ­omy is clash­ing with his other pri­or­ity to re­build what he has called a “de­pleted” mil­i­tary. The Army and the na­tion’s other mil­i­tary branches find them­selves in “a highly com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment” when look­ing to fill their ranks, Gen. Mil­ley said.

Re­tired Gen. Carter Ham, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of the U.S. Army, put it suc­cinctly in an in­ter­view with ArmyTimes.com: “You can have all the money in the world. You can have all the right equip­ment in the world. If you do not have the right peo­ple, then it is not go­ing to work.”

In the fis­cal year end­ing Sept. 30, Army re­cruiters signed up roughly 70,000 re­cruits, short of the 76,500 goal set by ser­vice brass. It was the first time the Army fell short of its tar­get since 2005. All of the other branches of the mil­i­tary hit their bench­marks for the year.

If the prob­lem were strictly num­bers, then the Army could have come up eas­ily with enough bodies to fill its per­son­nel gaps, Gen. Mil­ley said. “We could have eas­ily met the num­bers if we were just go­ing for num­bers,” he said, but the Army’s re­cruit­ing mis­sion is more about find­ing the right kind of soldier to add to the ranks rather than just fill­ing bil­lets.

“We do not sac­ri­fice qual­ity for quan­tity,” he said. The re­cruit­ing ef­forts are linked to De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis’ drive to in­crease over­all readi­ness and the de­ploy­a­bil­ity of those in uni­form, with more ca­pa­ble troops trained in the lat­est equip­ment and weapons sys­tems.

Stop­ping the bleed­ing

The Army has been a par­tic­u­lar sore spot, stretched by the long en­gage­ments in Afghanista­n and the Mid­dle East. The Army re­cruits and trains more per­son­nel than all the other ser­vices com­bined.

“We have stopped the bleed­ing and are [now] on an up­ward swing,” said Gen. Mil­ley, who is pre­par­ing to end his four-year stint as the ser­vice’s top of­fi­cer. “You are not go­ing to [im­prove] an Army in 12, 24 or 36 months, but ef­forts are be­ing taken” to have a big­ger, more ca­pa­ble Army in the next sev­eral years.

On re­cruit­ing specif­i­cally, in an ef­fort to strike a bal­ance be­tween quan­tity and qual­ity, Army lead­ers plan to send out hun­dreds of ad­di­tional re­cruiters across the coun­try to en­sure last fis­cal year’s short­falls are not re­peated, said Army Sec­re­tary Mark Esper.

“We’re ex­pand­ing the num­ber of re­cruiters we’ll put out in the streets. We’re clean­ing up the store­fronts. We are mov­ing into 20-plus cities around the United States,” said Mr. Esper, speak­ing along­side Gen. Mil­ley at last week’s press con­fer­ence.

“I think we can and we will do a lot bet­ter, but it’s go­ing to take some time to re­po­si­tion our­selves,” he added, de­clin­ing to com­ment on where the ma­jor­ity of the re­cruiters will be de­ployed or the specifics of the Army’s new re­cruit­ing strat­egy.

But with the rise of cy­ber­war­fare, au­ton­o­mous weapon sys­tems and weaponized ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, the Army and the rest of the mil­i­tary branches are com­pet­ing with the likes of Google and Ama­zon for tech-savvy peo­ple needed to wage war­fare in the dig­i­tal age.

Those chal­lenges have also been com­pounded by the fact that the per­cent­age of young Amer­i­cans phys­i­cally and men­tally el­i­gi­ble for mil­i­tary ser­vice has shrunk dra­mat­i­cally over the years. On av­er­age, only 28 per­cent of 18- to 24-year-old men and women qual­ify to be a pri­vate in the Army, ac­cord­ing to Pen­tagon fig­ures.

One fac­tor that could pose a chal­lenge to Army re­cruit­ment, and ser­vice readi­ness over­all, is the ser­vice’s con­tri­bu­tion in man­power and ma­te­rial to the Pen­tagon’s bur­geon­ing Space Force. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and Mr. Mat­tis made of­fi­cial in Au­gust the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s call for the Space Force to be­come the sixth branch of the armed forces, and to be or­ga­nized and fully func­tional by 2020.

While the Space Force is likely to face an up­hill bat­tle in Congress, with many law­mak­ers skep­ti­cal of the cost and added bu­reau­cracy, pro­po­nents say a mus­cu­lar Space Force — on par with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force — is the only way to fully com­pete with Amer­ica’s lead­ing global ri­vals. But to ful­fill the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strate­gic and op­er­a­tional goals for the Space Force, all mil­i­tary branches will have to dip into their pools of lim­ited re­sources.

Army and Pen­tagon lead­ers are al­ready pur­su­ing “mul­ti­ple cour­ses of ac­tion” to iden­tify the Army’s role in man­ning and sup­port­ing the nas­cent Space Force, Mr. Esper said.

“The Army is a big user of space … so it is im­por­tant we get it right,” he said. The Army, he added, “will al­ways be a team player” in con­tribut­ing to the Space Force.

But meet­ing its own ba­sic re­cruit­ing needs re­mains the Army’s top pri­or­ity, Gen. Ham said.

“The Army needs to grow in or­der to man­age its many mis­sions,” he told the Army Times. “If you can­not re­cruit, at­tract and re­tain the qual­ity peo­ple that you need, then grow­ing the Army just be­comes a pipe dream.”

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